RESEPI Meeting Helps African Nations Come Together to Control Animal Diseases Across Borders
U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs
"With the movement of animals through the region and the porous borders, a disease doesn't affect just one country, it usually affects many," explained Dr. Connie Bacon, Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) advisor with USAID/USDA for West Africa. "And so a regional or a subregional coordinated effort is needed in order to assess the level of disease within the region and also develop a prevention and control program."
With that critical cooperation in mind, epidemiologists and other animal-disease specialists from 21 countries in West and Central Africa gathered for a meeting of "The Regional Network of National Epidemiosurveillance Systems for Transboundary Animal Diseases," also known as RESEPI.
The meeting, held September 10-13, 2012, in Accra, Ghana, was designed to strengthen the network and develop plans for the future.
"The value of an epidemiosurveillance network is to ensure the early detection of diseases to enable rapid response," wrote Dr. Amadou Nchare, acting director of veterinary services in Cameroon, in an e-mail interview following the meeting. "There is a need for countries to develop real plans against transboundary diseases. One of the challenges at the regional level is to harmonize control strategies and to adopt the same priorities for all the countries."
The RESEPI meeting was a joint effort by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Government of Ghana, and U.S. Africa Command.
The main focus of the meeting was the sustainability of the network.
"I think the biggest success was for the countries and for the regional economic communities to concur that it was time for them to take ownership of the network," said Bacon. "The networks should not be owned by FAO or by USDA; that is a role for the national governments under the umbrella of the regional economic communities."
Dr. Youssof Kabore, FAO animal health officer, agreed in an e-mail interview following the event: "The highlight of the meeting was the fact that the coordination of the network has been entrusted to the member countries, reflecting greater member country ownership in the management of the network. This will allow the network to endure and have greater impact on the economic communities."
The participants agreed to establish two separate regional epidemiology networks: one for Central Africa and one for West Africa. Each would be linked to its regional economic organization, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) or ECCAS (Economic Community of Central Africa States). Every country will appoint a representative from its epidemiology unit to its regional epidemiological network.
The following countries sent representatives: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Representatives from FAO, African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), ECOWAS, USDA, USAID, AFRICOM, and the South African Development Community (SADC) also attended the event, which was co-funded by FAO and AFRICOM."
"The participation of all the network member countries shows the importance they attach to the existence of the network," noted Kabore.
One focus of the meeting's working groups was peste des petits ruminants, also known as PPR or goat plague. According to FAO, PPR is a highly contagious, quickly spreading virus that strikes mainly small, hoofed animals such as goats and sheep. PPR is closely related to rinderpest; since the eradication of rinderpest and the decline in rinderpest vaccinations, PPR has emerged as a major disease impacting small ruminants in the region.
Up to 90 percent of those infected in a flock may die, according to FAO. PPR has affected Asia and Africa from Senegal to Kenya, and from Liberia and Sierra Leone north to Egypt, according to FAO. RESEPI participants worked on a strategy to coordinate the many initiatives underway to prevent and control the disease.
Other recommendations included a new RESEPI newsletter, Joint Rapid Response Teams for emergency disease issues, joint training and work plans, and annual joint meetings with both RESEPI/RESOLAB (West and Central Africa Veterinary Laboratory Network for Avian Influenza and other Transboundary Disease).
Kabore concluded: "The rich presentations and discussions demonstrated that there are many constraints faced by the countries that aspire to owning efficient disease surveillance systems, and they resulted in recommendations very likely to lead to greater support of the network by the member countries."