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Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) – the lurking threat to livestock development and food security

The USAID-funded IDENTIFY project helps FAO to build laboratories’ capacity for early detection and diagnosis of diseases, enabling rapid response to emerging issues.

Rapid spread of infectious diseases such as HPAI H5N1 avian influenza can compromise global health and economies, and increase vulnerability of the poor to poverty and food insecurity. Early detection of pathogens circulating and/or emerging in animal populations is a public and animal health priority. Effective and credible laboratory services are an essential component of any early detection system, needed by countries to fulfill their disease reporting obligations to OIE. Recognizing the unique role played by FAO, OIE and WHO in promoting human and animal health at the global level, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) invited the three organizations to jointly implement the IDENTIFY project, a component of their Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) Program. The FAO|IDENTIFY project seeks to strengthen national veterinary laboratory capacity for rapid and accurate detection of targeted diseases in regions defined by USAID as those where the risk of emerging human and/or animal diseases is highest (Congo Basin of East and Central Africa, the Mekong region of Southeast Asia, and the Gangetic Plain of South Asia).

There are 37 IDENTIFY supported animal health laboratories located in South and South East Asia (23) and the Congo basin region (14). Initially a participatory process, informed by data from application of the FAO laboratory mapping tool (a questionnaire developed to aid in assessment of laboratory conditions and performance), identified pressing constraints to laboratory functioning such as low operating budgets, prohibitive equipment costs, low sample accession, limited training opportunities, and difficulties to apply quality assurance and biosafety/biosecurity practices, among others.


IDENTIFY’s portfolio thus includes technical training in [field] pathology and disease specific diagnostic techniques, support for pathogen sequencing,  quality assurance and biosafety/biosecurity practices (including equipment maintenance and basic metrology) targeted at laboratory managers and staff. Novel approaches to improve sustainability include the creation of partnerships between animal health laboratories and the private sector in Cameroon, DRC and Rwanda with the aim of generating avenues for reliable financing and increasing sample accessions. The One Health approach helps broaden the impact of national rabies seminars held in select countries in Africa.


Through regional animal health laboratory network meetings, IDENTIFY works to strengthen cooperation and collaboration among laboratories and enhance detection and data analysis particularly for transboundary animal diseases. These meetings provide an opportunity for laboratory directors to discuss ways to improve information sharing, communication and use of databases/platforms. Additional work is being conducted to streamline the role of regional service laboratories by aligning their functions, roles and responsibilities at regional level and thus also to increase complementarity and networking between FAO and OIE reference centres.


Highlights of activities planned for IDENTIFY year 4
(Oct 2012 to Sept 2013):


  • Strengthening the linkages between the field and laboratory
    • Develop tools to improve the linkage between the field and the laboratory: focus on pathology
    • Support advanced virus characterization of selected viruses from national network activities
    • National Field Pathology trainings
  • Strengthening regional resources for selected animal diseases
    • Support access by national laboratories to genomic sequencing services in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Targeted support for strengthening diagnostic capacity and laboratory management
    • Support PCR testing for multiple diseases
    • Standardization and validation of PCR protocols
  • Support timely diagnosis and reporting for priority diseases, including support for laboratory policies to ensure flow of samples and sharing of information
    • Development of a standard approach for sharing of information and biological materials
    • Support to development of sample referral guidelines for transboundary animal diseases (TADs)
    • Public-private partnerships for sustainability of veterinary laboratories in sub- Saharan Africa
  • External quality assurance management (EQA) for diagnosis of targeted diseases
    • Support proficiency testing for priority diseases selected by the region
  • Enhancing the role of Regional Leading/Support Laboratories for animal health
    • Support and promote the establishment/development of regional Leading/Support Laboratories
    • Build capacity in leading animal health laboratories to design, implement a proficiency testing program for priority diseases
  • One Health initiatives: strengthening linkages between veterinary and public health
    • Four-way linking framework to improve the linkage between laboratory and epidemiological data (for H5N1 zoonotic influenza) for assessing health risks at the human-animal interface