Strengthening capacity to manage animal disease emergencies in Southern Africa

Strengthening capacity to manage animal disease emergencies in Southern Africa

16/08/2017

The occurrence of transboundary animal diseases - especially those that can be transmitted to human beings from animals - poses grave socio-economic consequences for Southern Africa. They affect food and nutrition security, human health, livelihoods and national economic development. In an effort to develop country capacities in preparedness and response to animal health emergencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations organized a training workshop on Good Emergency Management Practices (GEMP) for Southern Africa.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Council President and Chief Veterinary Officer for South Africa, Dr. Mike Modisane stressed on the need for coordinated preparedness and response actions. “If one Member State does not implement the correct protocols, this has negative consequences for the whole region and curtails our efforts to control animal diseases and zoonoses in the region,” he said.

Developed by FAO, the GEMP is a set of guiding principles on best practices for the management of disease outbreaks in emergency situations. It provides veterinary services with the knowledge and skills to effectively control, contain and prevent the spread of animal diseases through better preparedness, coordination and timely response.

Increasing frequency of livestock disease emergencies

Foot and mouth disease (FMD), african swine fever (ASF), peste des petits ruminants (PPR), rabies, rift valley fever (RFV), and anthrax, among others, are endemic in most countries in the region. Since May 2017, the region has been on high alert following reports of H5N8 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe and South Africa. The increase in the incidence of especially trade-sensitive transboundary animal diseases and zoonoses threatens the economies, livelihoods and food and nutrition security of over 40 per cent of its population that depends on livestock for their livelihood. 

Veterinary and public health officials from 11 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries attended the three-day workshop (08 - 10 August 2017) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Also in attendance were representatives from OIE, SADC Secretariat, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Improving the preparedness and response

The workshop highlighted the importance of risk communication and raising awareness among farmers as a means of encouraging participatory surveillance. It also highlighted the importance of compensation as a key element in increasing farmer compliance to risk mitigation measures and encourage better reporting. Other issues discussed included the need for, transparency in the animal health status of countries in a region; national emergency funds; public-private partnerships to improve coordinated responses; and capacity development in disease investigation, biosafety and biosecurity.

“Most countries have outdated contingency plans for the most important diseases in the region. We hope that with the new skills acquired through this training, they will review and update their contingency plans and develop relevant standard operating procedures”, said Lewis Hove, Head of FAO’s Resilience Hub in southern Africa. 

The participants stressed the importance of multi-sectoral/ inter-ministerial approaches in contingency planning validation and application. “We learned that collaboration across sectors, including animal and human health, agriculture, food and public safety and others is essential and required at all stages of preparedness,” said Albertina Shilongo, the Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer at the Directorate of Veterinary Services - Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry of Namibia.

A key output of the workshop was the development of country specific action plans using the GEMP approach to enhance preparedness for animal disease emergencies in their respective countries and the region. The GEMP training was conducted, as part of the project implemented by FAO with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). FAO has so far conducted 30 GEMP training workshops benefitting participants from over 60 countries.