The RESOLAB presentation

West and Central Africa Veterinary Laboratory Network for avian influenza and other transboundary diseases

The incursion of HPAI H5N1 into Africa has shifted the attention of the international community towards the continent’s veterinary services and has highlighted their shortcomings although they have responded as best as they can to the emergency. However because of the current deficiencies in animal disease surveillance systems and diagnostic capacities in many African countries the actual distribution of the HPAI H5N1 virus on the continent cannot be estimated with accuracy. Furthermore, because HPAI appears clinically similar to Newcastle disease, the first disease can be overlooked without implementation of laboratory diagnosis. Therefore and because HPAI is an international public good, the international community support is urgently needed to strengthen the African Veterinary laboratories diagnostic capacities for HPAI and also for other diseases affecting poultry production in Africa.

As part of the efforts of FAO and its partners to support veterinary laboratory for HPAI diagnosis in Africa, it has fostered the creation of the West and Central Africa Veterinary Laboratory Network for avian influenza and other transboundary diseases. This was launched in December 2007 in Bamako, Mali, at the end of a one-week joint FAO-USDA/APHIS inception workshop organized by the Regional Animal Health Centre (RAHC) of Bamako.

The inception workshop was attended by almost 40 heads of virology units and laboratory managers from 13 West African (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo) and seven Central African countries (Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tomé and Principe). Sixteen speakers or guests from national, regional or international organizations (USDA-APHIS Dakar and Washington; OIE; AU-IBAR; IZSVe Padova; FAO Rome, Abuja & Bamako) were also present.

The meeting endorsed a proposal presented by the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Diseases (ECTAD) for West and Central Africa Regional Office named “West and Central Africa Subregional Laboratory Network for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza”. The objective is to improve the capacity of all subregional national veterinary diagnostic laboratories for HPAI diagnosis through training, technical support and information sharing within a sustainable network framework. This network shall allow laboratories with low technical capacity to benefit from those that are more advanced. Overall, it is expected that most of the laboratories within the regions will become able to process locally suspected samples and thereby will contribute in an efficient manner to early warning and early reaction system for the better control of HPAI and other TADs.

Country reports presented at this meeting clearly showed that the technical level of laboratories throughout the network is very variable, ranging from no functional facilities to good laboratories (although no high security veterinary laboratory type BSL3 is present in the entire West and Central Africa region).

The Regional Animal Health Centre (RAHC) of Bamako was named as the network coordinator. It will be in charge of finding adequate financial and logistic means and support for network operations. Its main technical goals are to achieve upgrading of the least advanced laboratories within a two-year time frame, and promote quality assurance in laboratories.

The Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (IZSVe) of Italy, one of the FAO/OIE reference laboratories for HPAI and Newcastle disease, will provide technical support to the network through training, testing, supplying reference reagents, protocols and coordinating inter-laboratories ring trials.

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