FAO strengthens animal disease surveillance and reporting mechanism in Sierra Leone

FAO strengthens animal disease surveillance and reporting mechanism in Sierra Leone

26/03/2019

Mr. Salamu Saidu, previous District livestock officer (DLO) since 2005 stepped into the role of District Agriculture Officer (DAO) in 2018. Part of his responsibilities are  to monitor, collect data on animal health situation in his operational district and report to the headquarters of the Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF). However, according to Mr Saidu, efficient data collection has often been a constraint to provide timely reporting. In addition to lack of data, previous reporting templates did not capture much information on the signs and symptoms of many zoonotic diseases that are under surveillance in the country.

Furthermore, outreach missions and support to livestock owners residing in remote villages was hindered by limited staff at the Livestock and Veterinary Division at MAF. To overcome these difficulties, DLOs relied on Community Animal Health Workers’ (CAHWs) alerts on disease situation in their communities. “However, our CAHWs have sometimes provided inaccurate information because of their level of knowledge on animal health and production. It is therefore a practice that we investigate these reports and confirm the disease outbreak through diagnosis.” he recalled. He also adds that the old reporting system required to be manually filled and hand-delivered at his own expense at the MAF headquarters causing most times “delays in reporting, and sometimes  no reports were submitted, due to lack of transport and economic means”, he revealed.

A strong partnership to improve animal health surveillance and reporting system

To address the numerous challenges faced by Saidu and other livestock personnel in reporting animal disease situation in the country, FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) developed an Integrated Animal Disease Surveillance and Reporting System (IADSRS) in partnership with the MAF.

The IADSRS system integrates CAHWs in the surveillance and reporting system, in an effort to bring services nearer to the farmers and communities. To set up this community workforce, MAF and FAO organized five, two-day regional training workshops on IADSRS to train frontline Livestock and Veterinary services personnel and CAHWs nationwide on the new reporting tools. The result was about 200 district livestock personnel and CAHWs trained on newly developed tools for animal disease surveillance and reporting which included; Romour Register/Log book, Zero Reporting form, Animal Disease Notification form for Notifiable Diseases, Weekly and Monthly Reporting Template, and Laboratory tools, namely sample collection, sample submission and results forms.

Prominent among the recommendations of this training were for the government and partners to provide means of mobility to MAF districts and headquarter surveillance personnel as well as CAHWs, more capacity building, procure first aid kits and organize quarterly knowledge sharing sessions and procure protective equipment  for frontline animal disease surveillance personnel.

New developments in the reporting system

Under the IADSRS, Livestock Assistants and Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) will be required to collect animal health data using the reporting templates from the communities and transmit them to the district level on a weekly basis.

To centralise and coordinate IADSRS operations, an Epidemiology Unit has been established at the Livestock and Veterinary Services division of MAF. The unit will be responsible for coordinating, collection, analysing and sharing of animal resources data, and provide feedback to the districts and to top policy management of MAF. This information will be disseminated to One Health Platform, African Union Inter-African Bureau of Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) and World Animal Health Organization (OIE) in respect of national, regional and international obligation, the Unit will also be required to publish quarterly bulletin on events happening during the period.

Enhanced mechanism for early disease detection and rapid reporting of animal diseases

After this training, Mr. Saidu states that the new reporting templates and data collection makes surveillance and reporting easier “It makes provision for surveillance officers to capture the geographical locations, which gives us clear indication of the areas that are severely infested by a particular disease outbreak”, he explained.

Mr. Daniel Bockarie Songa has been a CAHW for three years and most community herders relied on him for treating their animals whenever they suspected sickness in their flock. Songa confessed that he had got some casualties while treating the infected animals. “I have now realized that my responsibility as a CAHW is a big one in terms of identifying and reporting suspected animal disease and if possible quarantine the sick animals to prevent the spread of the disease”, he said.

Another major achievement has been the setup of the IADSRS system, to improve data collection quality and interpretation. This support to establish a new reporting approach is expected to enhance mechanism for early disease detection and rapid reporting of animal diseases from the community level to the national level in Sierra Leone.