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FAO convenes meeting on Anthrax in West Africa

By Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
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A group of countries in West Africa that is frequently adversely affected by anthrax - including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, and Togo — holds a two-day sub-regional meeting on the prevention and control of the disease, in Lomé, Togo, from 28 to 30 September, 2015. Experts from FAO, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Organization for Animal Health, WHO/AFRO and UEMOA exchange their experiences with country animal health experts and authorities.

The meeting will aim at providing a better understanding of the epidemiology of the disease and factors associated with its persistence in the sub-region.

“These countries are struggling to put in place effective control programmes to reduce public health threats and economic burden on rural populations due to anthrax”, declared the Directeur-de-Cabinet of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Hydraulics,

Mr. Dindiogue KOLANI at the opening session.

“We expect the meeting to help to develop sustainable and effective programmes for prevention and control of anthrax outbreaks affecting livestock and humans”, he added.

Some of the major challenges to the effective control of anthrax in the subregion include a lack of technical knowledge at the grass roots level on animal and public health risks related to the disease, weak and delayed response by veterinary services, lack of an appropriate anthrax control strategy, and lack of collaboration between public health and veterinary services.

The meeting is attended by more than 30 participants, including directors of veterinary services and disease control specialists from experts from participating countries and anthrax experts from FAO, WHO/AFRO, CDC, and UEMOA as well as other relevant stakeholders.

Building capacity

Anthrax is a significant recurrent disease in West Africa, particularly in countries with poorly resourced public health and veterinary services.

As a result of recurrent outbreaks, a large number of livestock die while scores of humans are also affected every year.

Socio-cultural practices at the community level such as slaughtering of sick animals and eating or handling meat from infected animals, and dumping of dead carcasses in the open are compounding factors of the persistence of anthrax in many of those countries.

Surveillance, livestock vaccination and proper disposal of livestock carcasses are the most efficient ways of preventing and controlling anthrax infection in domestic herds, and also limit its transmission to humans

“The meeting offers an opportunity to share information on the current status of anthrax in livestock and humans and control programmes in target countries; develop a better understanding of local knowledge and practices to help design and target community awareness programs, and promote adequate control interventions”, said FAO Senior Animal Health Officer, Ahmed El Idrissi.

The Lomé consultation will enable the participating countries to assess the feasibility of conducting epidemiological studies in selected areas to evaluate temporal and spatial occurrence of anthrax and identify environmental factors associated with disease persistence; to identify short and long-term training needs for capacity development in outbreak investigations, laboratory diagnostics and surveillance, and explore coordination mechanisms for facilitating cross-border collaboration and information sharing.