International partnership combats Rift Valley fever outbreak in West Africa
Experts from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, WHO and the World Organization for Animal Health recently collaborated to contain a Rift Valley fever outbreak on the border of Niger and Mali in West Africa, according to a press release.
So far, WHO confirmed that 64 illnesses and 23 deaths related to the outbreak occurred in Niger. Health officials partnered together during an expert mission, conducted between November 29 and December 6, to develop short-, mid- and long-term action plans for preventing the spread of Rift Valley fever from Niger to Mali.
The Rift Valley virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected animals, or by mosquitos, per the release. There is no treatment or vaccine for the virus, which can cause hemorrhagic fevers associated with renal impairment, meningitis and vision loss. A study published earlier this year, led by researchers at Umeå University, revealed that the infection was associated with a sevenfold increased risk for miscarriage in pregnant women, the release said.
Osama Ahmed Hassan, PhD, infectious disease epidemiologist of the department of clinical microbiology, Virology unit, at Umeå University who was recently recruited by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO/UN) to participate in the mission expressed concern over the potential seriousness of the current outbreak.
“We have learned from the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa that hemorrhagic fever outbreaks can emerge rapidly unless strong countermeasures are taken on the ground,” he said in the release. “This urgency is why I quickly joined this mission upon the request from FAO/UN.”
In addition to adverse events in humans, Rift Valley fever also causes spontaneous abortions in pregnant livestock and death in neonatal animals. A series of Rift Valley fever outbreaks — linked to an estimated 230,000 infections and 553 deaths in humans — that occurred in East Africa from 2006 to 2008 resulted in livestock trade bans that led to severe socio-economic consequences for export and import countries.
In Mali, human and animal health officials consider the One Health approach to be the best strategy in combatting Rift Valley fever. Although Hassan, who is a member of the One Health Sweden network, agrees that implementing the approach in local high-risk communities will hamper the outbreak, he warned that activities such as animal vaccination, disease surveillance, risk communication and livestock trade regulations are difficult to implement in the region. Therefore, international support is needed to employ preventive and control measures.
“Unless creative ideas that are relevant to the Malian context are considered, they will be difficult to implement,” Hassan said in the release. “Swift action is needed before further geographical spread of the virus will take place. We have to remember that the health systems of West African countries have not yet recovered from the catastrophic Ebola outbreak. I believe Sweden can play a role leading in global health issues through research and expert contributions.”
Disclosures: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.