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December 11, 2018

Experts urge study of animal-human disease

A dog undergoes vaccination in Kilifi /PATRICK VIDIJA
A dog undergoes vaccination in Kilifi /PATRICK VIDIJA

cientists have called for more research into diseases transmitted from animals to humans, such as rabies and Rift Valley Fever.

The researchers said African governments have not prioritised research in zoonotic diseases, those which can be transmitted from animals to humans.

They said countries should promote research and training to fight the diseases. They include rinderpest, brucellosis (from infected dairy products), bird flu, anthrax, among others.

“We should build capacity for the next generation of African scientists without relying on funding from outside. This will help countries mitigate the spread of zoonotic diseases that are highly infections and fatal,” Bassirou Bonfoh said.

Bonfoh is the director of Afrique One-Aspire, a Pan African consortium that promotes research on zoonotic diseases.

He was speaking on Friday during a meeting with researchers drawn from East and West Africa on zoonotic diseases at a conference in Nairobi. Bonfoh said zoonotic diseases hurt the economy, health and the environment.

The consortium is training 60 scientists from 11 Africa countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana. The training is offered in sociology, public health, veterinary, biology, mathematics among others.

“Our aim is to use science for impact and socio-economic change towards the sustainable development goals,” Bonfoh said.

Gloria Mensah, a post-graduate fellow at Afrique One-Aspire, said young scientists were well placed to boost knowledge on disease-causing pathogens among low-income groups. She asked them to draw lessons from multi-disciplinary research to strengthen efforts in eradicating rabies, rinderpest and brucellosis. 

Bonfoh is the principal investigator on a research project on rabies. He said it  is necessary to first perform mass dog vaccination that covers at least 70 per cent of the population.

“This is not achievable in some countries because of limited veterinary services such as human resources, post-exposure drugs and vaccines,” he said.

2,000 DIE  ANNUALLY

He said there was optimism because of the availability of rabies vaccines which can be kept in remote rural areas for up to two months outside a fridge. World Rabies Day will be marked on September 28 under the theme Share the Message, Save a Life.

In Kenya, rabies which is transmitted by infected dog bites, kills at least 2,000 people annually according to the Zoonotic Dogs Unit.

This makes rabies among the top five human-animal diseases in Kenya. Only 25,000 of an estimated five million dogs get vaccinated. In September 2014, the government launched mass vaccination.

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