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First FAO ISAVET training programme held in Kampala and Luwero, Uganda

ISAVET Trainees, facilitators and Luwero District officials pause for a photo, after the four-week long training
11/11/2018

The first cohort of trainees for the FAO In-Service Applied Veterinary Epidemiology (ISAVET) Programme recently completed Part I of the training course to enhance capacity of African countries, including Uganda, to prepare for, detect and respond to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases that include zoonotic and transboundary animal diseases. A total of 26 frontline veterinarians from seven African countries were trained. Frontline veterinary field epidemiologists are responsible for conducting effective and timely surveillance and outbreak response.

The frontline ISAVET Programme was jointly developed and launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD) of Texas A&M University in collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Resources and Biosecurity (COVAB), Makerere University working closely with public health, and other local partners.

The programme was piloted in Africa after several assessments conducted under the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) in different countries pointed out significant limitations in veterinary services and national-level capacity to detect and respond to infectious animal diseases.

The four-month training, the first of its kind in Africa, attracted trainees from Veterinary Services in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Uganda. It consists of 4 weeks of formal training, followed by three months of home-based mentored field projects at trainee duty stations and targets 180 veterinarians from 14 African countries over the next 12 months.  

Speaking at the closure of the first module of the training in Luwero District, Dr Caryl Lockhart, FAO’s Team Leader on ISAVET emphasized the need for such hands-on training in most African countries that are constantly experiencing disease outbreaks – such as Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Rift Valley Fever, brucellosis and tick‑borne diseases – often not adequately managed.

“Supporting countries to train more of their field level veterinarians and animal health technicians in areas such as surveillance, investigation and emergency response would address some of these gaps. To ensure sustainability of this programme, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries (MAAIF) should have ownership”, Dr Lockhart added.

The importance of such training is clear when the alternative is considered. The direct cost of zoonotic diseases at global level, over the last decade, has been estimated to be more than $20 billion with over $200 billion indirect losses to affected economies as a whole (World Bank 2010). The impact of disease is even much greater due to loss of lives, reduced opportunities, livelihoods and social welfare – not fully quantified for different diseases in most developing countries like Uganda.  . Lack of appropriate or timely action can amplify loss of life and costs of control, especially where zoonotic diseases such as RVF and CCHF are concerned.

FAO Uganda’s Team Leader for the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases, Dr Sam Okuthe, on behalf of the FAO Country Representative in Uganda emphasized the need for effective, credible and exemplary output from this first cohort of trainees. This would spur further support to this very important and necessary cadre of field epidemiologists as identified during the scoping and assessment missions. Such outputs have led to the sustainability of such epidemiologists in South East Asia countries.

All the 26 participants received partial certificates of achievement during a ceremony presided over by MAAIF’s Commissioner for Animal Health Dr. Anna Rose Ademun Okurut who called on the participants to apply the much desired and acquired the epidemiological skills to transform their countries.

Dr David Castellan, a veterinary epidemiologist working for the IIAD emphasized the need to build competencies and skills in surveillance, disease outbreaks, risk communication, data collection, analysis and reporting.

“Diseases are changing … what we knew a year ago can sometimes change so fast and our interventions may not work next year. We need to remain relevant and updated about the changes and the evolution of new pathogens, emerging diseases and how they are spread between species, in order to respond appropriately and effectively,” Dr. Castellan said.

Ultimately, the training aims to protect human life, animals and livelihoods of farmers and improve food security by controlling disease, reducing the impacts of disease as well as the amount of time spent treating sick animals and people. FAO’s technical assistance to MAAIF – through initiatives such as ISAVET – contributes to MAAIF’s efforts to work towards a ‘One Health’ approach in Uganda together with the Ministry of Health, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and Ministry of Water and Environment.

Lessons learned from this pilot course in Uganda will be applied to the next training in Dakar, Senegal later this year, and in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya in 2019.

The frontline ISAVET initiative in Africa follows a similar successful initiative started 10 years ago in Asia that has now established training centers in Thailand, China, and Indonesia.