29 October 2015 – In the framework of the Vmerge project on “Emerging, Viral Vector-Borne Diseases” (a research consortium funded under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Commission from 2013-2017), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) organised a training on Rift Valley fever (RVF) epidemiology, on the theme “RVF preparedness for early detection and contingency plans”. The training took place in Tunis, Tunisia, on 8-9 October 2015.
The 2-day training was planned and organised in close collaboration with ECTAD-Tunis, the Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), the Centre de Recerca en Sanitat Animal (CReSA) and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell'Abruzzo e del Molise "Giuseppe Caporale" (IZSAM). It brought together all sixteen (16) REMESA Focal points from Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. Also, one representative from the veterinary services of Senegal and three OIE representatives attended the training.
The opening ceremony started with welcoming remarks from the ECTAD-Tunis Manager and the OIE sub-regional Coordinator. They both reminded participants about the importance of the training, as it came at the right moment, considering the growing risk of introduction of RVFV to the non-affected countries in the region. The ECTAD manager also presented on other ongoing activities on RVF and, among them, some FAO projects on RVF diagnostics and awareness implemented under Vmerge project.
All represented countries presented their ongoing programs and activities with regards to RVF surveillance and control. Under Vmerge project, Tunisia shared a plan for a RVF serological survey to be carried out in some areas of the country with results expected as soon as in November of this year. Algeria and Morocco are not performing any surveillance at the moment. Since 2011, Mauritania has set up a surveillance system and an inter-sectorial committee that meets regularly to exchange information on RVF – as well as on other zoonotic diseases- and to decide on the best control measures to implement. Senegal brought to the audience its experience in dealing with RVF outbreaks and the organisation of its surveillance system, which is essentially based on sentinel herds. Senegal has also initiated a targeted vaccination campaign using an inactivated vaccine.
All sessions were followed by discussions and exchanges among participants. The main issues that arose included the vaccination strategy to be adopted, the appropriate surveillance system for early detection based on sentinel herds, and its applicability. Participants had an opportunity to learn from both Mauritania and Senegal experiences. Other subjects that were discussed included the risk assessment methodologies applied to RVF and the production of risks maps for the region. Different methods and models available were introduced, such as those integrating various factors, e.g. rainfall, vegetation indexes for vector suitability coupled with animal density and disease transmission modelling.
The training was concluded with the drafting of country RVF contingency plans, including elements on risk analysis, disease diagnostic, public awareness, vaccination strategy, capacity building, biosecurity protocols, and emergency resources mobilisation.
The meeting was closed by the FAO Sub-regional representative in Tunis, who reminded participants about FAO’s commitment to assist countries in the prevention and control of RVF, before distributing participation certificates to all participants.
A FAO manual on RVF surveillance is currently under development, which will complement this training in addressing the need for awareness and capacity building on RVF preparedness in the region.