Serious socio-economic and public health consequences can result from transboundary animal diseases (TADs) which are highly transmissible and have the potential for rapid spread, irrespective of national borders, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization. In order to combat these diseases, early detection and reporting to authorities is vital. This is particularly true in East Africa where livestock have large grazing patterns. In effort to combat TAD, Veterinarians Without Borders USA (VWB USA) implements the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Syndromic Surveillance for Livestock Health (SSLH) program in Ethiopia and Uganda. The SSLH program goal is to increase producers and community animal health workers awareness of animal health and disease recognition through volunteer trainings, thereby enhancing the passive surveillance system for healthier livestock.
With the help of expert volunteers, the SSLH Program in Ethiopia, run by Dr. Fisseha Tadesse, has completed 25 training sessions leading to 1089 trained beneficiaries in Ethiopia. These training contribute to SSLH’s ultimate impact of reducing the spread of livestock disease at the national level. This is achieved through enhancing farmer’s knowledge on the disease symptoms to increase disease reporting to the local veterinary offices. While most of the farmers are aware of the prevalence of the diseases before the training, most did not know how the diseases spread, how to prevent them, nor who to contact when they identify a transboundary disease.
In June, VWB USA sent three expert U.S. volunteers to rural Ethiopia to complete two-day trainings with local livestock farmers. These volunteers were Antwan Cuffie and Yaritbel Torres-Mendoza, two veterinary students at the University of Georgia, and Dr. Robert “Vic” Adamson, a veterinarian and retiree of the US Army Reserves and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
The VWB volunteers worked closely with Dr. Tadesse and Dr. Wubet Sinshaw, District Veterinary Officer of Bahir Dar. Volunteers trained participants from local animal health workers, paraveterinarians, slaughterhouse/slab workers, and livestock sales personnel. An empowered farmer with the skills to diagnose their livestock contributes to early diagnosis and rapid treatment. This, in turn, protects other animals that come in contact with those that are infected and helps local authorities have accurate data on the scope of these diseases in their district. This potentially life-saving information extends far beyond the original farmers taught, as part of the program is a “training of trainers” model, in which those trained then share the knowledge gained through the training with their local communities.
Dr. Adamson stated before the training, virtually all farmers had been negatively affected by many diseases. In addition, the participants were confused or misinformed about the diseases, specifically with regard to transmission and mortality of the diseases. “We wanted to fill the gaps in their knowledge,” said Yaritbel Torres-Mendoza, a student VWB volunteer. “Our main goal was to teach them about transboundary diseases, the national animal surveillance triangle, and emphasize the importance on reporting and why these diseases have such an impact in their economy.”
Antwan Cuffie, a volunteer veterinary students, reported that the team saw the biggest impact from biosecurity, surveillance and rabies discussions because these discussions involved topics that were the most foreign to the farmers.
“This training empowers the farmers and strengthens the relationship between them and the animal health professionals,” Torres-Mendoza added. “We are showing the farmers that they play a vital role in the control and eradication of these diseases that affect their country.”
VWB’s Farmer-to-Farmer SSLH Program is part of the USAID-funded John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program implemented through Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) Special Program Support Project (SPSP). F2F supports innovative approaches to using U.S. volunteers in international development initiatives. The SPSP funds and supports F2F projects that draw from non-traditional sources of volunteers and develops the capacity of non-traditional volunteer organizations. VEGA F2F special projects will be implemented by voluntary technical assistance organizations as sub-awards.