KAMPALA – Twenty District Veterinary Officers from 17 districts were selected for the first cohort of the Frontline In-Service Applied Veterinary Epidemiology Training (ISAVET) in Uganda, a programme to develop skills of the frontline animal health workforce in field-level preparedness, early detection and rapid effective response to transboundary animal diseases (TADs) and emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) within the One Health approach. One Health is a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines, working at the local, regional, national and global levels to achieve better health outcomes by recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment. Veterinary field epidemiologists are the first line of defense against animal diseases that can also affect humans and therefore the ISAVET training is critical and timely, given the sustained occurrence of diseases that affect both humans and animals.
The four-months training, which started on 1 November 2020 in Luwero District, will build the capacity of in-service field-level (frontline) veterinarians, creating a cadre of skilled frontline workers who can conduct effective surveillance and outbreak response.
Trainees will hone their skills in field investigation and response, epidemiological surveillance and animal disease preparedness, through classroom sessions and practical, applied field training, after which they will return to their duty stations to develop and implement field-based projects, under supervision of mentors. They will then attend a post-training workshop to present their field projects and receive certificates of competence.
The training is part of the activities supported by the USAID funded project, “Supporting the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) to Address Zoonotic Disease and Animal Health in Africa”.
The first cohort of Frontline ISAVET trainees in Uganda, and in Africa, was selected from Budeki, Butebo, Hoima, Kalungu, Kasese, Kazo, Kiruhura, Kisoro, Kotido, Kumi, Lamwo, Luwero, Mbale, Namutumba, Nwoya, Sheema and Tororo districts. Eight of the 20 trainees are women; a milestone in the male-dominated animal health sub-sector in Uganda. This unique training also welcomed women with children, uncommon in veterinary training in Uganda.
While officiating at the opening ceremony of training, Anna Rose Ademun- the Chief Veterinary Officer and Commissioner for Animal Health at MAAIF, commended FAO for supporting female veterinarians and the animal health workforce in Uganda.
“Thank you, FAO for making Uganda the beacon of excellence in ISAVET in Africa. We are the pioneers in implementing this programme”, she said.
“The training will give participants skills to get a 360 degree perspective on data collection, preparedness, prevention and management of zoonotic diseases, and build a critical mass of animal health workers,” she added.
Healthy animals are directly linked to the health and prosperity of communities who rely on animals for their livelihoods, food security and nutrition. The unprecedented emergence and spread of animal diseases and zoonoses (affect both animals and humans) pose a serious threat to global health security. Gaps in the animal health sector to prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks promptly at the local level, often contribute to the persistence and expansion of animal health threats across countries and borders. It is therefore important that every country has enough well-trained field veterinary epidemiology staff to protect human health, reduce animal losses, assure consumer protection, promote safe trade and improve livelihoods.
According to Antonio Querido- Representative of FAO in Uganda, “the training will develop the unique competencies required not only to strengthen the country’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to emerging and re-emerging infectious threats on time but also to improve the livelihoods of the people and the national economy”.
Querido also called for mindset change among veterinarians, to look beyond animal health, but also how the environment can affect animal and human health.
“It is cheaper to control diseases in animals than in humans; this cohort will therefore be a body of expertise that is essential for Uganda,” he added.
The Frontline ISAVET programme was developed in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Initiative and Texas A&M University and in collaboration with African universities including Makerere University, Uganda and Inter-State School of Veterinary Science and Medicine (EISMV), Senegal. FAO is implementing ISAVET in 14 countries in Africa, including Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda, following a similar successful initiative started 10 years ago in Asia that has now established training centres in Thailand, China, and Indonesia. The programme was first piloted in Uganda in 2018.
In Uganda, FAO is implementing the Frontline ISAVET together with Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and partners to address zoonosis, emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola and COVID-19 and transboundary animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease. FAO is supporting the training through the GHSA initiative with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For sustainable implementation and growth of the ISAVET programme, FAO involves government ministries in decisions, ensures the programme is housed within each Ministry of Agriculture and/or Livestock, and advocates for ownership at country and regional levels.
Aloysius Lumbuye- District Veterinary Officer for Luwero district, thanked FAO and MAAIF for implementing the ISAVET programme and underscored its timeliness. “Trainees should endeavour to develop problem-solving project proposals and pay keen attention during the training, to learn skills for better data generation, collection and ultimately, decision-making”, he urged.
For every dollar spent training health workers to address pandemics and diseases at the animal and human health interface, about USD 5 are saved. The Frontline ISAVET programme will therefore empower animal health workers to reduce the potential consequences of EIDs and TADs in Uganda. The latter have detrimental effects on national economies, threaten food security through animal loss, increase poverty in livestock-dependent communities and increase the cost of livestock production.
“We need active surveillance to take action and ISAVET will empower trainees to conduct better surveillance and collect high-quality data,” said Sam Okuthe, Team Leader of the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Uganda. He urged the trainees to become champions for better animal health and district level because field epidemiology through the Field Epidemiology Training Programme (FETP) in the eastern African region and Uganda has for long been skewed to focus mostly on public health and less on animal health issues.