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FAO boosts readiness to manage animal health emergencies across Africa

18/11/2021

Cameroon’s Emergency Operations Centres serve as a model for other countries in Africa seeking to strengthen preparedness for and response to emergencies affecting animal and public health.

All countries need a system to manage emergency preparedness and response, and Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) are increasingly seen as critical components of that system. These centres facilitate coordinated responses to a range of hazards, such as natural disasters, humanitarian emergencies and disease outbreaks.

Africa is one of the continents most affected by emergency situations and disasters. Yet very few of its countries possess animal health EOCs, and where they do exist there is sometimes a lack of collaboration and coordination with public health and disaster management EOCs. Consequently, animal health emergency and disaster management interventions are sometimes conducted in a non-systematic manner. 

Cameroon is among the countries on the continent that have experienced multiple animal disease outbreaks and continue to face such challenges. In 2019, 452 outbreaks of 49 animal diseases were detected, according to the annual surveillance report by the Cameroon Animal Disease Epidemiology Surveillance Network (RESCAM). Some of the obstacles to effective containment of outbreaks include delays in reporting from the field, delays in information sharing through the public health system, ineffective coordination and slow response. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has supported the Government of Cameroon in building the capacity of veterinarians, public health officials and wildlife public servants at the EOC to manage health threats that occur at the interface between the environment, animals and humans. 

Cameroon’s EOC offers a framework for consultation between the various national and international actors involved in the management of public and animal health emergencies, and the coordination of related interventions. FAO’s Emergency Management Centre for Animal Health (EMC-AH) has been collaborating with Cameroon, the pilot country under a project funded by DTRA, to produce an Animal health emergency operations management manual, which was then customized and adapted to the national context by Cameroon. Following a workshop to present Cameroon’s adapted version of the manual, titled “Manuel pour la gestion des operations lors d’une urgence zoosanitaire au Cameroun” (Manual for the management of operations during an animal health emergency in Cameroon), a national decree for the creation of an Animal Health Emergency Operations Centre (AH-EOC) in the country was issued earlier this year. The necessary documentation and facilities are in place, pending final authorization from the Prime Minister’s Office for the AH-EOC to be officially established and fully operationalized. Cameroon's adapted animal health emergency operations manual was successfully tested in a simulation exercise in the country in September 2021, using African swine fever (ASF) as a case study. 

Other countries on the African continent are facing similar difficulties containing animal disease outbreaks and are also keen to explore the possibility of establishing a national AH-EOC. To this end, representatives from Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania recently undertook a three-day visit to the Animal Health EOC, the Public Health EOC and the Disaster Management EOC in Cameroon. The team, composed of three animal health officials from the United Republic of Tanzania and two officials from the Senegal One Health platform, also held meetings with technical and management staff, the environment and disaster directorate, members of the One Health national platform and the private sector, including farmers’ associations, policymakers and others. 

For the head of Senegal’s Animal Health Protection Division, Dr. Mathioro Fall, the visit “helped to identify framework documents, standard operating procedures, technical and legal aspects and to understand the coordination between the different centres as well as identifying the advantages and disadvantages of setting up an AH-EOC.” For Dr. Baltazar G. Leba, representing the United Republic of Tanzania’s One Health Coordination Desk, learning “how to implement the structure and how to engage the Government in the operationalization of the AH-EOC” was essential: “Understanding the collaboration and coordination mechanisms between the AH-EOC, Public Health EOC and Disaster EOC is critical to establishing a similar mechanism in Tanzania.”

 

Visit to the Permanent Secretariat of the National One Health Platform. @FAO.

 

Lessons learned by participants of the study tour will help to develop advocacy documents to be used for the establishment of an AH-EOC in their respective countries. The visiting team identified a lack of funding, weak data sharing and the need to reinforce workforce capacities and infrastructure as the main obstacles to be overcome. The recommendations to establish AH-EOCs in Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania included working on close coordination with public health and disaster management EOCs, the Government and development partners through the ministries responsible for animal health, continuing with FAO’s technical and financial support, and developing a reinforced AH-EOC workforce. The study tour was implemented by FAO with financial support from DTRA.

Recent public health events of international concern, such as COVID-19, Ebola in West Africa or Rift Valley fever in Kenya, are a reminder how important it is for each country to create permanent vigilance, surveillance, preparation and response mechanisms to ensure its own health security as well as contributing to protect global health. 

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