20 December, 2013, Rome – Regional animal networks have been in place across West and Central Africa since 2007 under the aegis of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Bamako, Mali. The networks were set up in order to harmonise laboratory and epidemiological surveillance and provide support to prevent and control Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs). They also serve to build capacities in preparedness, early warning, response and monitoring of veterinary services to countries in the region.
The two major networks are the West and Central Africa veterinary laboratory network for Avian Influenza and other transboundary diseases (RESOLAB) and the regional network of national epidemiosurveillance systems for Avian Influenza and other priority animal diseases in West and Central Africa (RESEPI). For institutional reasons, RESOLAB and RESEPI were subdivided in 2012 as follows: (i) RESOLAB-WA and RESEPI-WA for Western African countries belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); and (ii) RESOLAB-CA and RESEPI-CA for Central African countries belonging to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). The networks bring together animal health experts from both regions and have contributed effectively to the preparation and the implementation of regional control strategies for some of the major animal diseases in the region, including Avian Influenza, Foot-and-Mouth Disease, Peste des Petits Ruminants and rabies.
FAO/ECTAD Bamako has coordinated the networks by establishing a multidisciplinary platform and a functional framework not least through its interactive website www.fao-ectad-bamako.org which has received over one million visits to date. Over the course of two coordination workshops held in Dakar, Senegal and Accra, Ghana in late 2012, it was decided that the coordination of the networks needed to be transferred to Regional Coordinators. This transfer was deemed necessary due to the need to create the effective ownership and sustainable functioning of the networks by Member States and Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The two main RECs are ECOWAS and ECCAS. With their activities and policies driven by the African Union, these are powerful regional organizations and are recognised at high decision-making levels.
As a result of the workshops in 2012, FAO and the United States Development Agency (USDA) held a meeting in Bamako in November 2013 to decentralize the coordination of RESOLAB and RESEPI. Regional Coordinators from seven countries (i.e. Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal) were officially designated to take the lead in preparing meetings for the animal networks, in setting and distributing the work agendas and in maintaining good relations with Country Representatives. The objective of the meeting was to collaborate with the Regional Coordinators to identify ways to approach Member States and RECs in order to begin a process of endorsement, institutionalization and sponsoring of RESOLAB and RESEPI. One of the ways in which this hand-over will take immediate effect is through ECCAS, with the recent announcement that its technical body, the Economic Community for Livestock, Meat and Fisheries Resources (CEBEVIRAH), will establish an animal health center in N'Djamena, Chad. The Center will host the coordination of activities of the RESOLAB-CA and RESEPI-CA networks.
The FAO-USDA meeting represented a significant first step towards the final objective of the hand-over which is for Member States and RECs to take full ownership of the animal networks and foster their sustainability in order to prevent and control animal diseases at national and regional levels.