FAO boosts Uganda’s human capacity for zoonotic disease detection and response through the training of One Health surveillance officers

Forty district “One Health” surveillance officers from 40 districts in Eastern Uganda have become the latest reinforcement to Uganda’s national animal disease surveillance of zoonotic diseases, which are increasingly becoming a burden to humans and animals in the country annually. The team of One Health surveillance officers, comprised of veterinary professionals, both public and private, was passed out after a three day training organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as part of activities to commemorate World Veterinary Day.

The One Health Training Course for District Animal Disease Surveillance Focal Persons in Eastern Uganda was held from 24-26 April in Buyende District. This was  focused on empowering the participants to home their skills in rapid detection and response to outbreaks  of diseases in animals before they cross to human beings. Participants were also trained on Biosecurity and Biosafety, communication and community engagement for one Health and reporting and response to zoonotic disease outbreaks. The training was part of the USAID-funded project to support the Global Health Security Agenda to address zoonotic diseases and enhance animal health services capacity in the country.

It was held on the backdrop of findings of the National Animal Health Surveillance System (SET) Report, 2018 that highlighted disparities and gaps in the animal health surveillance system in Uganda. The report pointed out delayed reporting of animal diseases to national authorities’, which facilitates the ease of disease-causing agents “jumping” from livestock and wildlife to human beings, often undetected. Moreover, preventing, detecting and controlling zoonotic diseases (diseases which affect both animals and humans), calls for an approach that facilitates multi-sectoral, cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary collaborations; from animal health, public health, environment, sociology and wildlife management among others. The latter approach is called “One Health approach”. The One health approach promotes effective collaborations and partnerships to management zoonoses such as Anthrax, Rift Valley Fever (RVF), Ebola, Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), Marburg, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), all of which have been experienced before in Uganda.

Speaking during national celebrations to mark World Veterinary Day on 26 April 2019 at the Buyende District headquarters, Dr Sam Okuthe who represented the FAO Representative in Uganda, Antonio Querido, commended the Government and partners for prioritizing animal and human health, by empowering staff and implementing One Health interventions. “FAO is committed to supporting Uganda to have the necessary capacity for rapid detection and response to emerging and re-emerging public health and transboundary disease threats”, Querido said in his remarks delivered by Dr Okuthe. “Strong one-health response and coordination mechanisms must be set up and strengthened at national and sub-national levels to overcome negative impacts of outbreaks on humans and animals” he added.

Over the last three years, FAO has empowered over 600 personnel in different sectors, with skills in disease outbreak preparedness, prevention, detection, response and recovery. FAO has also supported the development of the One Health Training Manual and One Health Information Exchange Protocol, outbreak response, provision of reagents and equipment for detection of zoonotic diseases and capacity assessment for national laboratory and surveillance systems. FAO advocates for a structured operational strategy in the management of animal diseases. This can only be achieved with improved resource allocation to implement the strategy at both the national and sub-national levels. The Senior USAID Advisor Mr. Greg Adams, who represented the USAID Ambassador Ms. Deborah Malac, encouraged the Government of Uganda to invest additional resources through the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF) to support the livestock sector, enabling MAAIF technical staff to conduct timely surveillance, sample testing and reporting on zoonotic diseases.

Speaking at the event held at Buyende District Headquarters, the President of Uganda Veterinary Association Dr Sylvia Baluka, appealed to the government of Uganda to improve salaries for Veterinarians and animal health at all levels which she says remains a hindrance to provision of better veterinary services. She further proposed to the government the need to provide a compensation program or insurance to farmers during disease outbreaks, redirecting of resources and interventions towards diseases prevention, among others.

Promoting the value of vaccination

FAO joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Veterinary Day, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of veterinarians to the health of animals and society. This year’s theme is “Value of Vaccination” and it focuses on the importance of vaccines that are considered to be the most valuable tool in any veterinarian’s arsenal, in protecting the health of animals and the livelihood of farmers.

FAO is, therefore, working in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) to strengthen animal disease surveillance, diagnostic capacity, livestock vaccination and treatment services as well as animal nutrition. This partnership resulted in the creation of an animal disease surveillance system through establishment of national steering and technical committees that continues to guide in disease reporting e.g. generation monthly disease reports that are shared in near-real time with MAAIF.

Since 2016, over two million heads of livestock have been vaccinated against transboundary and endemic animal diseases, including Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD), Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP) and Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP). FAO also facilitated the vaccination of 200 000 heads of cattle in 17 districts against FMD, the development of a risk-based strategy and the training of 70 veterinarians and Community Animal Health Officer (CAHOs) on FMD control procedures.

The Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs, Honourable Moses Kizige who represented Rt. Honorable Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of parliament, while speaking at the event emphasised the importance of vaccination in preventing and minimizing the impacts of diseases in animal and human populations, saying that successful vaccinations have led to the eradication of animal diseases such as rinderpest.

“There is a need to emphasize effective and efficient vaccination for the control of increasing epidemics in animals and zoonoses in Uganda as well as the success of livestock-related livelihood intervention,” he said, adding that, due to inadequacies in the animal vaccines supply for some key animal diseases such as rabies, anthrax, FMD, the control of these diseases remains a huge challenge to the communities and the country at large, which in turn affects the farmers’ livelihood and the country’s economy.

In Uganda, livestock is a source of livelihood that provides employment, income, animal protein, transport, draft power, manure, savings, insurance and social status. Uganda has high concentrations of domestic and wild animals, with an estimated 13 million cattle, 14.6 million goats, 3.9 million sheep, 3.7 million pigs and 43 million chickens, and its economic growth is highly dependent on the performance of the agriculture sector of which livestock is a significant sub-sector. Interventions to promote better zoonotic disease detection and control, such as vaccination and human capacity development are therefore critical.

Source : Fao