10 March 2016 – The first national FAO/EPT-2 work planning meeting for Kenya was recently convened in Nairobi on 4 and 5 March. The primary objectives of the FAO component of the EPT-2, a programme funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases that have an adverse impact on health sectors (both human and animal), such as Ebola, avian influenza, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome caused by Corona virus (MERS-CoV).
Following a technical consultation meeting on Ebola virus and MERS Coronavirus in Rome in January 2016, and the FAO regional programme launches for East Africa in Nairobi (12 – 13 January 2016) and West and Central Africa in Abidjan (9-10 February 2016), this meeting was the first in a series of country-level engagements in which specific activities were planned and outlined for the period March to September 2016. In Kenya, FAO’s component of EPT-2 addresses Ebola and MERS-CoV in domestic animal populations through specific disease surveillance and detection activities as well as through strengthening laboratory diagnostic capacities, and better understanding of farming systems and value chain sectors. The new FAO activities, to be implemented until 2019, aims at building and strengthening basic capacity in animal health to detect early and rapidly respond to emerging disease crises threatening animal or human health. Implementation will be aligned with the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), an important global initiative led by over 50 countries (including the U.S. Government).
Participants at the two-day meeting planned activities to be conducted in Kenya related to surveillance in domestic livestock, value chain and production systems characterization, laboratory support, human behavioural studies, risk assessment, and risk mitigation interventions. Targeting Ebola surveillance at the wildlife-domestic animal interface is key for improving our understanding of the role that livestock may potentially play in the transmission of this deadly virus. Building on previously established regional One Health networks like OHCEA (One Health Central and Eastern Africa), and national platforms such as the Zoonotic disease unit in Kenya, FAO is able to operate within and strengthen existing infrastructure by mapping livestock value chains, production and agro-ecological systems; leveraging ongoing or planned swine health surveys, and building laboratory capacity. Murithi Mbabu, the head of Kenya’s Disease Surveillance and Vector and Zoological Services Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, explained: “Kenya has a history of working at the animal-human interface. We welcome FAO’s work in strengthening this capacity, and the Department of Veterinary Services fully supports the implementation of this programme as it contributes to the good health of Kenyans and their livestock”. MERS-CoV related activities will differ from Ebola-related activities due in large part to valuable research already conducted in Kenya. Recent surveys of camels have revealed widespread exposure to MERS-CoV. This body of knowledge means that the planned activities will center primarily on gaining a more detailed understanding of the transmission dynamics of MERS-CoV in camels and other livestock populations.
The meeting was attended by members of the Department of Veterinary Services, the Department of Livestock Production, representatives from the Counties, EPT-2 partners (One Health Central and Eastern Africa (OHCEA) and Preparedness & Response project) International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). FAO staff in attendance were from the country office, FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) unit for East Africa, as well as from headquarters. The presence of representatives from these organizations was key to the success of this meeting. Central to the planning process was identifying collaborating partners for each activity – this ensured that a participatory approach is built into the programme at every step. Vish Nene, Director of Vaccine Biosciences at ILRI, said “We are pleased to be involved in the planning and implementation of FAO’s activities in Kenya under the EPT-2 program. Cooperation is key to the success of a large programme like this one, and ILRI can provide technical expertise to many of the EPT-2 activities”.
This meeting marked the beginning of a process of work planning. Similar meetings are planned for every one of the 21 countries in which FAO will conduct EPT-2 activities. “Thanks to dedication and hard work of the participants, the activities outlined here can be used as a template for future work planning meetings in other countries conducting Ebola or MERS-CoV surveillance”, said Bouna Diop, the Regional ECTAD Manager for East Africa. “The success of this meeting could not have been achieved without the active participation of everyone involved, from the county level to headquarters, and from wildlife, public health, and livestock sectors. These diseases emerge at the livestock-wildlife-human interface, and to understand them, we must apply a One Health approach”.