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Government of Uganda, FAO, USAID collaborate to enhance skills and knowledge of Ugandan animal and public health professionals to manage disease outbreaks

Some of the participants brain storm on an exercise during the training on Good Emergency Management Practices (GEMP
09/08/2019

One of the biggest challenges to global health is delayed animal disease reporting to facilitate immediate response. Worse still, a great number of diseases that affect human beings - at least 75 percent, originate from animals and if not addressed promptly, increase the chances of such diseases (zoonoses) spreading very fast among animals or crossing from animals to humans. Against this background and in a country like Uganda, which is has witnessed many zoonotic outbreaks such as Ebola, Anthrax and Rift Valley Fever, human and animal health systems can be immensely supported to effectively respond to outbreaks through timely and rapid surveillance. Consequently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) organized two back-to-back trainings to reinforce the skills and knowledge of district surveillance officers in Uganda.

The two trainings for District Surveillance Focal Persons were: “Animal Disease Surveillance for One Health Approach” and “Good Emergency Management Practices (GEMP)” were held on 5-6 and 7-9 August 2019 respectively in Entebbe, Uganda. The two trainings were attended by 40 participants; including district veterinary officers from 30 districts in Uganda and representatives from the public and private sectors. These included MAAIF, Ministry of Health, Uganda Meat Producers’ Cooperative Union, Uganda Wildlife Authority, ALPHA ZOETIS and National Drug Authority. Topics discussed during the trainings included: principles, knowledge and skills in participatory epidemiology; one health emergency preparedness, prevention, detection and recovery actions; outbreak investigation; emergency phases (peace time, alert, emergency and recovery) and rapid response to animal health emergencies. Participants also benefitted from practical sessions and a field visit to the National Animal Disease Diagnostics and Epidemiology Centre (NADDEC) where they were appraised on laboratory and epidemiology best practices.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, Dr Ann Rose Ademun- Commissioner for Animal Health and Chief Veterinary Officer at MAAIF revealed that the two trainings were timely and will greatly contribute to enhancing knowledge and skills of animal health human resources to do better surveillance and reporting; therefore promoting effective control and management of disease outbreaks in the country.

“At one time, reporting of disease outbreaks in Uganda was at 99 percent; meaning that only one district was not reporting. However, for many reasons such as low motivation of staff and limited resources, reporting dipped to about 13 percent”, she said. “However, through intensive sensitization and support from partners such as FAO, this figure rose to 20 percent and now stands at about 46 percent” she added, noting that only 26 out of 136 districts in Uganda are effectively reporting cases of zoonoses outbreaks.

Dr Ademun urged the participants to use the newly acquired knowledge and skills to empower their colleagues in neighboring districts to sustain and increase the level of reporting through networking and information sharing.

The trainings were part of fulfilment of recommendations made by the Surveillance Evaluation Tool (SET) developed by FAO and MAAIF in 2018, to increase surveillance, detection and response to zoonotic disease outbreaks in Uganda. Some of the recommendations were: 1) Identify and appoint surveillance focal points at district veterinary offices 2) Operationalize the One Health Platform and increase preparedness for zoonotic disease outbreak response 3) Ensure quality surveillance reporting by promoting training programs that reinforce the importance of proper surveillance techniques and 4) Upgrade disease reporting tools to improve timeliness and compliance of information flow from the sub-national to the central level 

According to Dr Tingiira John Bosco, the District Veterinary Officer for Kiboga District, “the district which is located in Uganda’s cattle corridor has very porous borders and this makes is susceptible to outbreaks such as those it grappled with in 2017 and 2018”. “Worse still, the district had poor surveillance and slow reporting and this delayed response to the outbreaks,” he added. However, Tingiira was optimistic that the knowledge and tools on reporting which he got from the training would greatly boost the district’s capacity.

Speaking at the training, Dr Sam Okuthe, the Team Leader of FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Uganda on behalf of the FAO representative in Uganda, Antonio Querido, called on the participants to use their knowledge to develop key arguments to advocate for investing in emergency preparedness, recognizing risks and prioritizing emergency response.

In addition, Dr Elma Zanamwe, an Emergency Management Specialist and Project Coordinator– Strengthening International Responses to TADs at FAO in Rome, reiterated FAO’s commitment to supporting the Government of Uganda to promote veterinary, public health, and environmental services adoption of GEMP principles in Uganda, to guide effective response to animal health emergencies.

Through ECTAD and with support from USAID’s Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), FAO is supporting countries in Africa to address zoonotic diseases and animal health. The intervention aims at addressing the problem of emerging and re-emerging high impact zoonoses. In Uganda, this project focuses on priority zoonotic diseases including anthrax, zoonotic influenza viruses, hemorrhagic fevers (Ebola, RVF, CCHF and Marburg), brucellosis, trypanosomiasis, plague, and rabies. FAO is specifically supporting: Surveillance and Response to Zoonotic Diseases, Work Force Development, Biosafety and Biosecurity and National Laboratory Systems among the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) action packages.