Weaknesses in veterinary surveillance systems in Africa have been highlighted during recent outbreaks of infectious diseases such as Rift Valley fever and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. Conventional passive surveillance has proven largely ineffective due to poor capacity and compliance, and many countries are not able to sustain active surveillance activities. As the result, public veterinary services and the commercial livestock sector are unable to detect and respond in a timely fashion to outbreaks of new disease threats, nor to manage successfully the control of transboundary diseases, many of which remain endemic in parts of the continent. This situation not only compromises the development of livestock trade, but also creates a continuing threat to human public health since the majority of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, shared by animals and humans. Strategies are needed to ensure that surveillance systems can meet the challenges posed by emerging infectious diseases, while recognizing the context of resource limitations. Identifying appropriate tools and incentives that encourage the full participation of both public and private actors will be critical.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Africa Bureau has identified three specific priority areas for strengthening the capacity of African animal health disease surveillance systems to enhance early detection and reporting of infectious animal disease:
- Providing veterinary professionals a toolkit of equipment, materials and information to aid them in detecting disease in the field and collecting samples, together with developing a business strategy for creating and sustaining internationally accredited laboratory capacity for timely processing of samples from the field;
- Engaging private-sector resources and capacity to enhance disease surveillance through public-private partnerships with commercial actors and with private veterinarians; and
- Developing the capacity of AU-IBAR’s (InterAfrican Bureau of Animal Resources of the African Union) animal disease information system to strengthen national disease surveillance capacities through communication strategies providing information and training.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) addressed these priorities through a series of activities implemented in close collaboration with AU-IBAR and other African partners from May to September 2009. Several underlying principles inform the design of the activities as stated in the USAID Africa Bureau strategy. These include:
- Ensuring the interventions are demand-driven, responding to the needs of the targeted beneficiaries, by consulting with the intended users during design and implementation;
- Assessing the feasibility and sustainability of proposed interventions based on a combination of analyses using techniques drawn from business planning and institutional economics; the former highlights the need for financial sustainability through cost-recovery where appropriate, whereas the latter focuses on understanding the incentives that motivate the targeted public and private-sector actors to participate in and sustain the interventions;
- Sustaining the knowledge component of surveillance capacity requires establishing mechanisms that provide continuous access for practitioners in the field to the most up-to-date disease information;
- Public-sector capacity will remain inadequate to ensure surveillance so mechanisms must be established to involve complementary private-sector capacity; and
- African experts are capable of providing many short-term training and technical assistance services at substantial savings of project budget.
From October 2009 to September 2011, funds that had not been spent while implementing the first set of activities were allocated to support the development of AU-IBAR’s disease reporting and knowledge base system: ARIS II.
It is also supporting a major workshop in March 2011 bringing together Chief Veterinary Officers and other stakeholders from the Horn of Africa and Gulf states to explore the use of a decision support tool for Rift Valley fever control to help stabilize livestock trade. Details of the workshop are available at http://rvfworkshop2011.wordpress.com.