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FAO, Government of Uganda to operationalize national committees for animal disease surveillance


In a joint effort to foster animal health in Uganda, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have instituted national technical and steering committees to spearhead effective and efficient animal disease surveillance across the country. These committees will be representative of animal health surveillance stakeholders in Uganda and will be guide on surveillance activities in the country.  Both the steering and technical committees will be responsible for overseeing all surveillance activities at the national and local government levels. Members will include chief veterinary officers, representatives of national farmers' federation or  association, representatives of veterinarians in private practice (technical group, association or union), representatives from Uganda Wildlife Authority, principal managers of the Epidemio-Surveillance System (ESS), Project managers taking part in epidemiological surveillance, animal health research organization (National Livestock Resource Research Institute (NALIRRI) and relevant technical organisations.

Formation of these committees followed recommendations of the FAO Surveillance Evaluation Tool (SET) assessment, carried out in March 2018. The assessment found that although, Uganda has good laboratory capacity at the central level, and priority zoonotic diseases have been identified through the One Health platform, a number of gaps must be addressed for effective operations for epidemio-surveillance in the livestock sub-sector. One of the gaps was institutional oversight and  absence of national steering and technical committees on surveillance. With the coming into force of these committees therefore, the country will benefit from improved coordination and prioritization of surveillance activities..

According to the Head of Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease (ECTAD) in Uganda, Dr Sam Okuthe, the committees will oversee all surveillance activities at the national level while District Surveillance Focal Persons will be the lead on animal disease surveillance at local government levels.  The district level focal will liaise with the National technical committee on surveillance activities including reporting to relevant organisations that include World Animal Health Organization (OIE) and Africa Union – Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR)

The SET is part of FAO's tools used by National Veterinary Services and ministries of member countries to evaluate the epidemio-surveillance system in the country. The tool provides an objective, standardized, comprehensive and systematic evaluation of animal health surveillance systems.

Following the successful pilot of the tool in Tanzania and Liberia, Uganda was among  the  countries to use the SET to assess the country's capacity to detect, prevent and control diseases; focusing on: institutional organization and legal frameworks, quality of laboratory analyses, surveillance activities and methodology, epidemiology workforce capacity and management as well as communication and reporting of results to internal, local, multi-sectoral and international stakeholders.

Findings from the assessment highlighted other good practices in Uganda as: rapid response to disease outbreaks, laboratory growth, qualified workforce and ongoing outreach programmes. However, some of the gaps were poor transportation infrastructure, lack funding for surveillance, lack of standard operating procedures for surveillance data processing and analysis, and poor internal communications systems.

The SET Report made eleven recommendations and action plans that will be implemented in three phases of short term, mid-term and long term. They include;

Identify and appoint surveillance focal points (FP) at district veterinary officesOperationalize the One Health Platform and increase preparedness for zoonotic disease outbreak responseEnsure quality surveillance reporting by promoting training programs that reinforce the importance of proper surveillance techniquesInstitute steering and technical committees to coordinate surveillance efforts at national and field levelsUpgrade disease reporting tools to improve timeliness and compliance of information flow from the sub-national to the central levelDevelop a formalized national surveillance plan that brings together active and passive activitiesIncrease internal and external stakeholders' participation in surveillance activities through the development of a surveillance communication planDevelop capacity for advanced epidemiological analysesEnhance budgetary autonomy of surveillance activities at the central levelDevelop a laboratory strategic plan/network to coordinate laboratory work

Speaking at the dissemination meeting held in Entebbe, the Commissioner for Animal Health (CAH) at MAAIF- Dr. Anna Rose Ademun Okurut reiterated that  the findings of the evaluation exercise were timely and would be used to inform planning and mapping out priorities on surverillance activities. She noted that the livestock sub-sector remains the weak link of the general health sector, yet it contributes 75 percent of diseases that affect humans.

"Most of the diseases in Uganda come from animals to humans yet the animal sector remains week. If we are to control or prevent them, we need to collectively shift our focus to animals and the animal sector so that we control them at the source thereby reducing their impact on human life but also boost production of the sector," she said, while speaking at a dissemination meeting of the SET findings, held in Entebbe.

She further called on stakeholders to prioritize active surveillance in order to obtain timely, reliable and accurate data which is critical to early response and prevention of disease, saying that many of the stakeholders come in to respond after disease outbreak has been reported.

"Surveillance is something which people don't appreciate because it involves looking for disease when it has not occurred. Budget holders do not appreciate putting resources to establish diseases when it has not occurred yet is the most cost-effective approach to prevent and control diseases, with no or minimal spread," she said.

During the dissemination meeting, several technical officers from Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries, National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NALIRRI), College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Resources and Biosecurity, District Veterinary Officers, representatives of the private sector i.e. Uganda Meat Producers Cooperative Union (UMPCU), UGACHICK and a private laboratory services provider and non-governmental organizations, Ministry of Health and Uganda Wildlife Authority attended. MAAIF officials called on the FAO and other partners to support development of the National Veterinary Laboratory Policy and the National Animal Disease Diagnostics and Epidemiology operation strategy that will guide on the operations of this very important on the management of animal diseases in Uganda