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Support from FAO enables the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Sierra Leone to confirm rabies in dogs

Support from FAO enables the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Sierra Leone to confirm rabies in dogs


Positive rabies samples validated by the World Organisation for Animal Health reference centre for rabies at the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES).

The Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) in Teko, Sierra Leone, confirmed rabies in dogs for the first time in many years using a fluorescent antibody test (FAT). This was made possible following the operationalization of the laboratory by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) under a Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The laboratory has since received six dog brain samples and positively detected the rabies virus in four samples. Positive samples were shipped to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reference centre in France, which validated the results that were confirmed by the CVL in Teko. Dog bites and suspected rabies cases in humans have been on the rise in the recent past, as documented by the Ministries of Health and Agriculture in Sierra Leone. This great milestone was made possible by long-term and comprehensive workforce training and laboratory development implemented by the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD).

Rabies is endemic in Sierra Leone and has been ranked as one of the top priority zoonotic diseases in the country. District livestock officers collected suspected rabies samples from dogs showing signs of rabies and submitted them to the CVL for confirmatory testing. The samples were tested for the presence of the rabies virus by using a rapid antigen test for rabies. The CVL ran further advanced confirmatory diagnostic tests using FAT, returning four positive test results. The laboratory used the OIE gold standard test and staff have been trained to ensure testing was carried out accurately. “Since this is the first time in many years that the CVL has confirmed rabies in dogs, we shipped the samples to the OIE reference laboratory for rabies in France (ANSES) to confirm our results, which came back positive, and for quality assurance,” said FAO ECTAD Country Team Leader, Dr Germain Bobo.

A breakthrough for animal health in the country

The CVL stopped operations in December 1997 as a result of damage caused by conflict. More than twenty years later, the laboratory resumed operations in October 2019 after a massive renovation, installation of state-of-the-art equipment and capacity building conducted by FAO under the USAID-funded GHSA project. Thanks to this support, the country now has the capacity to test for rabies and other priority zoonotic diseases and transboundary animal diseases such as brucellosis, Rift Valley fever or highly pathogenic avian influenza. 

The Deputy Director of the Livestock and Veterinary Services Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr Mohamed Alpha Bah, described the achievement as a breakthrough for animal health in the country, especially because of the increased capacity to test for rabies in-country. “For so long we have been shipping most samples abroad for laboratory confirmation and it would take longer for us to get results. Early detection is key in animal disease control, because the earlier we detect and confirm the disease, the quicker we can implement prevention and control measures to reduce the burden of the disease,” he explained. He further added that “The Ministries of Agriculture and Health experience high costs to prevent and control rabies, e.g. post exposure prophylaxis for humans and dog vaccines.”

In response to the detection of rabies, which is one of the priority zoonotic diseases in the country, and recognizing its high burden, FAO and other partners have supported the development and implementation of the National Strategy for the Elimination of Rabies and Enhancement of Dog Population Management. FAO also supported the development of the National Rabies Action Plan and guidelines for implementing the strategy using the  One Health approach. The rabies strategy provides for a systematic reduction of the disease risk through sustained mass dog vaccinations, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis in humans and public education. This is in line with the world’s biggest anti-rabies initiative: “Zero by 30: The Global Strategic Plan to Prevent Human Deaths from Dog-Transmitted Rabies by 2030”. Through FAO’s work with national laboratories, steady improvement in disease detection capability is being achieved in Sierra Leone and across Africa.


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