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Countries in West and Central Africa demonstrate commitment to defeating rabies by 2030

Countries in West and Central Africa demonstrate commitment to defeating rabies by 2030

11/11/2019

Established in 2007, World Rabies Day raises awareness of the threat of rabies and brings together key stakeholders to enhance global prevention and control efforts. To coincide with this year’s event – which was held on 28 September – the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Regional Manager for West and Central Africa, Dr Baba Soumaré, shared some insights into ECTAD’s contribution to the elimination of rabies in the region.

Rabies is a viral zoonosis affecting humans and other mammals, which inevitably leads to death once the symptoms are declared. About 60 000 people die of rabies worldwide each year. Africa is the second most affected continent, with over 36 000 deaths – most of whom are children. Yet, with the right tools and strategies to prevent the spread of the disease, rabies-related deaths are preventable.

The spread of rabies across the region is an indication of the insufficient control tools and national policies in place to address this neglected disease. However, according to Dr Soumaré, progress is being made to address this issue. “West and Central Africa is showing a clear upward trend toward defeating rabies by developing and implementing targeted efficient national policies and integrated national action plans,” Dr Soumaré said. “During World Rabies Day 2018, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone vigorously enforced rabies legislation supported by FAO.” All seven countries validated their national rabies integrated control plans and strategies, which clearly shows the increase in governments’ support of effective rabies eradication programmes.

FAO strengthening capacities in the field

FAO provides significant technical assistance to improve rabies diagnosis in the field. “With FAO ECTAD support, in 2017 and 2018, rabies diagnosis was strengthened in national veterinary laboratories in seven West and Central Africa countries (Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Senegal) through the provision of equipment and reagents and the strengthening of the capacities of members of staff,” Dr Soumaré explained. “Veterinary laboratories are increasing their ability to carry out tests. As a result, rabies can be identified in every country in West and Central Africa. This was simply not possible just five years ago.”

Encouraging the adoption of a One Health approach

By strengthening countries’ capacity to prevent, detect and respond to zoonotic endemic diseases like rabies, the adoption of the ‘One Health’ approach in the region has naturally been accelerated. This innovative method promotes multisectoral responses to food safety hazards, risks from zoonoses and other public health threats at the human–animal–ecosystem interface. Following this approach for the fight against rabies, Dr Soumaré stated that “ECTAD encouraged the operationalization of rabies task forces within national One Health Platforms in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Senegal. Moreover, seven strategic plans for rabies elimination by 2030 have been validated and implemented under a One Health approach (in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone) with FAO support.”

These are important achievements that indicate a widespread commitment across the region to eradicate rabies by 2030. As FAO ECTAD Regional Manager for West and Central Africa, Dr Soumaré is a champion of the world’s biggest anti-rabies initiative: “Zero by 30: The Strategic Plan”. Together with World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), FAO is contributing to the fight to end human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030. “The elimination of rabies requires a consistent and sustainable involvement of governments and multi-stakeholder collaboration backed by robust systems for the management of human and animal health. Together, we are closer to eradicating rabies by 2030,” he affirms.

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