19 June 2012

West African Animal Health Specialists Deepen Skills in First Joint USDA-USAID-Africom Workshop

Banjul — In the first such workshop hosted jointly by U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), lab technicians and epidemiologists from five West African nations gathered June 4-8, 2012, in Banjul ,The Gambia, to learn techniques and share insights around combating transboundary animal diseases.

Transboundary animal diseases cross borders and hinder the production of livestock, which is a critical component of African nations' economies and food supplies. Some animal diseases also pose a serious health risk to humans.

More than 20 participants from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia focused on six diseases: peste des petite ruminants, African swine fever, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease, Newcastle disease and highly pathogenic avian influenza This was not a week of lectures; instructors from Senegal, Cameroon and South Africa led practical teachings on the surveillance, diagnosis, prevention and control of each of the six diseases. The workshop was designed to help build capacity in partner African nations to control and prevent these devastating diseases.

Workshop topics ranged from methods of physically examining live animals to performing necropsies on poultry, goats, and a pig to collecting the correct tissue samples for later testing. For many participants, it was the first time they received professional instruction in such techniques as drawing blood or performing a necropsy on a pig.

Representatives from each country also took turns presenting their current issues and methods for data collection and information sharing.

"The countries are very willing to help each other," explained Dr. Connie Bacon, Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) advisor with USAID/USDA for West Africa and the principal organizer of the event. "They realize that not one country will solve an animal disease. It really needs to be a regional and subregional effort."

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), transboundary animal diseases account for 20 percent productivity loss in sub-Saharan Africa. The impact of these diseases further weaken already vulnerable areas and can undermine the stability of a fragile region.

For example, according to the UN Refugee Agency, the turmoil in northern Mali recently has led to the displacement of more than 300,000 people -- and their livestock.

Those livestock now risk being exposed to different diseases in a new area as well as transmitting any diseases they might be carrying. "It's a perfect environment for transboundary animal diseases to take hold," said Bacon, pointing out, "Really, the situation in Mali has changed the whole livestock profile of the region."

Three representatives from U.S. Africa Command attended the workshop: Dr. (Lieutenant Colonel) Clayton Chilcoat, the command veterinarian; Bruce Zanin, USDA/FAS agriculture and food security advisor; and Daniel Kasmierski, Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) science and technology advisor.

"It was a really tremendous effort," said Zanin. He attended all the session and, along with the other AFRICOM attendees, provided additional insight.

As well as learning useful techniques, the participants also gained valuable connections to each other, Zanin said. "Their problems are shared problems," he said. "They have to work with their governments and their bureaucracies" to articulate their needs and the importance of tackling these diseases.

The workshop was organized by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Office for West and Central Africa, in collaboration with USAID and the Ministry of Agriculture of The Gambia. It was supported by U.S. Africa Command as part of a broader infectious disease-focused initiative.

"I think it was a learning experience for everyone," said Bacon.

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