29 November 2013 – Recent epizootics in Europe and Africa show that viral vector-borne diseases (VBD) such as Rift Valley fever (RVF), Bluetongue or Schmallenberg can occur and spread rapidly, becoming difficult to control. The impact of these diseases can affect animal health as well as global food production and trade. Environmental and pan socio-economic changes are expected to increase VBD emergence in previously unaffected geographic areas. There is an urgent need to develop specific research programmes, especially on predictive models and innovative control strategies that can be translated into decision support tools in order to increase the level of preparedness and the early detection of emerging VBDs, while maintaining acceptable costs.
In response to this need, FAO is joining together with the Centre de coopération international en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) and other partners under a European Commission project to promote integrative and innovative research on VBD in North and West Africa. Through the “Vmerge” project, CIRAD is coordinating the efforts of FAO and 13 research centres in Europe and Africa. These include: the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II (IAV) in Marocco; the Institut sénégalais de recherches agricoles (ISRA) in Senegal; Alexandria University in Egypt; the Institut de Recherche Vétérinaire de Tunis (IRVT) in Tunisia; and the Centre national d’élevage et de recherches vétérinaires (CNERV) in Mauritania. The project will be also supported by networks operating in the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan area, such as the Réseau Méditerranéen de Santé Animale.
VMerge aims to assess the risk of introduction, emergence and spread of VBDs, in particular RVF. FAO will focus on: i) disease modelling and risk mapping to improve early detection and preparedness; ii) proposing new surveillance strategies in northern Africa and the Sahel; and iii) disseminating research outcomes to the veterinary services in the beneficiary countries.
For this project, innovative methods will be explored to increase the RVF prediction in North and West Africa using FAO in-house expertise on RVF risk modelling. This includes the production of monthly RVF risk maps for the Horn of Africa based on environmental and climatic predictors (i.e. satellite-derived vegetation index and rainfall anomalies). An automatic procedure will be developed in order to regularly produce risk maps for the region. Updated maps will be shared online through FAO-EMPRES websites.
FAO will ensure that existing and newly generated scientific knowledge on vector ecology, VBD and risk modelling will be translated into policies disseminated at country and regional level. FAO will help authorities adapt their contingency plans to realistic strategies and take into consideration specific country contexts and epidemiological scenarios. FAO will also provide training manuals and guidelines. By bringing together the relevant research institutes in Europe and North and West Africa as well as national veterinary services and laboratories, FAO will help link authorities to the public sector in order to share scientific results and propose new policies with the ultimate goal of exploring the feasibility, practicality and future of the implementation of this innovative project.