FAO ECTAD increases resilience of West and Central Africa’s livestock sector during COVID-19 pandemic

FAO ECTAD increases resilience of West and Central Africa’s livestock sector during COVID-19 pandemic

19/02/2021

Movement restrictions triggered by the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic have severely affected the livestock sector in West and Central Africa (WCA). Reduced access to feed, diminished slaughterhouse capacity and limited access to grazing land are only a few examples of the consequences of the pandemic. "We are joining forces to ensure that a food crisis does not occur. But unless more efforts are undertaken to keep regional food supply chains alive, it will be difficult to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the livestock sector," said Baba Soumare, Regional Manager of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in WCA.

FAO coordinates animal disease prevention, preparedness, detection and response through ECTAD, using a One Health approach, which ensures that specialists in multiple sectors work together to tackle health threats to animals, humans, plants and the environment. The global impact and response to the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for coordinated action across sectors to protect health and prevent disruption to food systems. 

The importance of surveillance in controlling health threats

FAO ECTAD’s expertise in enhancing the capabilities of countries in WCA to prevent, prepare for, detect and respond to animal health threats has helped mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the livestock and environment (wildlife) sector, safeguard small producers and pastoralists’ safety nets and strengthen resilience to food insecurity

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, FAO ECTAD has accompanied national authorities to conduct joint risk assessment to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and to support training on field surveillance investigation, sample collection, shipment and transportation (for example through the frontline In-Service Applied Veterinary Epidemiology Training [ISAVET], community animal health workers training, etc.). As a result of this support, 127 veterinary and laboratory agents from the public and private veterinary and epidemiologic sectors have participated in ISAVET training, meaning that all ten WCA countries have had ISAVET trainees in their epidemiological sectors graduate. These trainings were organized in close collaboration with the national directorates of veterinary services and national veterinary laboratories and demonstrate the importance of surveillance capacity for the prevention, early detection and response to control the spread of animal diseases including zoonoses. "ISAVET training modules enabled me, at my work station, to quickly detect animal diseases in order to better control them and prevent their spread in our livestock," said Serge Santing, the delegate of the Lomié district of the livestock, fisheries and animal industries in the east Cameroon region. In Côte d'Ivoire, surveillance is also one of the pillars of FAO ECTAD's work. During the pandemic, a joint action plan including COVID-19 response activities, such as increasing the involvement of the public health and veterinary sectors in surveillance, detection, investigation and follow-up testing of COVID-19 in domestic animals in contact with COVID-19 patients was developed with the Government.

Improved COVID-19 testing by reinforcing veterinary laboratories

To support the response to the negative impact of COVID-19, FAO ECTAD supported veterinary laboratories as effective tools for the prevention and control of animal diseases, which proved to be of great importance during this pandemic. 

For instance, through the purchase of reagents and consumables for diseases such as rabies, avian influenza and Newcastle disease, FAO ECTAD in the Democratic Republic of the Congo strengthened the diagnostic capacity of the Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) in these challenging times of COVID-19, when high mortalities of primates and dogs were reported in the eastern part of the country. In Ghana, veterinary laboratories of Accra and Takoradi and the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Pong-Tamale actively participated in COVID-19 testing in the country to support public health laboratories. FAO ECTAD Ghana also supported the installation of a Laboratory Information Management System (SILAB/LIMS) One Health module at the Accra Veterinary Laboratory to improve COVID-19 testing. In Guinea, despite the difficult situation, the two regional veterinary laboratories continued to analyse samples and detect the pathogens responsible for high priority diseases such as rabies, anthrax, brucellosis, peste des petits ruminants and foot-and-mouth disease. FAO ECTAD contributed greatly to the success of these laboratories, demonstrating their resilience in responding to major animal health problems in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Cameroon, the National Veterinary Laboratory, supported by FAO ECTAD, has assisted the Pasteur Institute by providing culture media for laboratory samples. Also, FAO ECTAD assisted the Government of Cameroon to secure a Technical Cooperation Programme project to support COVID-19 detection and emergency response along the livestock value chain in Cameroon.  

FAO ECTAD preventing the next pandemic

FAO ECTAD Senegal has been a pioneer in reinforcing capacities and in demonstrating the global threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and ways to prevent its spread amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In collaboration with the Chair of Antibiology of the Faculty of Medicine, Pharmacy and Surgery-Odontology of the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (UCAD), the recognition of the importance to strengthened public and animal health capacities on AMR by the Government led to the creation of the Inter-university International Diploma (DIUI). A total of 31 health professionals including nine veterinarians were able to obtain for the first time a diploma on detection and surveillance of AMR and the prudent use of antimicrobials, thus contributing to the insertion of AMR into national public and academic agendas. This new modality of virtual education due to the circumstances imposed by the pandemic has opened the door to a new format and an efficient way to carry out the continuous training of professionals. 

In WCA, out of 24 countries with FAO representation, ten countries have FAO ECTAD offices that support governments and farmers in preventing, responding to and controlling the negative effects of zoonotic and non-zoonotic diseases. FAO ECTAD's experience in strengthening safety nets and community resilience to food insecurity is helping to mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 with the aim of effectively improving resilience, national preparedness and ultimately reducing the risk of this pandemic by minimizing its impact on food security, nutrition and livelihoods and strengthening the resilience of these communities.