Animal health experts have complained that there aren’t enough people with the right skills to help stop the spread of cross-border zoonotic diseases that hurt Uganda’s economy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that a zoonotic disease is an infection that can naturally spread from animals to people or from people to animals.
Over 200 zoonotic diseases have been documented around the world, but since 2007, Uganda has focused on seven of the most common ones: anthrax, influenza viruses, viral hemorrhagic fevers, brucellosis, trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness), plague, and rabies.
Due to a lack of dog vaccinations, infections like rabies are common in the Moyo and Ntoroko districts. A Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) outbreak in Kween district in 2017 had a 100% case fatality rate, and in May 2022, there was an Anthrax outbreak in Bududa District.
Several experts say that zoonotic diseases have a big effect on the economy because they hurt the production of food (meat, milk, eggs, and wool) and the work done by draught animals.
According to Dr. Francis Ejobi, an Associate Professor of Veterinary Public Health at Makerere University, Uganda has established regional sample test laboratories in Mbale, Masaka, and Mbarara, among others, over the last five years, with a central diagnostic lab established at Makerere University due to a lack of personnel.
The Commissioner for Animal Health in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries (MAAIF), Dr. Anna Rose Ademun Okurut, said that animal diseases are a big problem for the growth of the animal resources industry.
Dr. Ademun showed that Uganda still has a hard time fighting new infectious diseases because there aren’t enough frontline workers who are trained to do timely field surveillance and collect the necessary data to guide interventions.
The government, backed by USAID and FAO, through the Ministry of Agriculture, is implementing an “In-Service Applied Veterinary Epidemiology Training—ISAVET” for veterinary and paraveterinary workers to bridge the gaps in the animal health workforce to prevent and control zoonotic diseases.
Out of the 2,184 sub-counties in Uganda, the ISAVET programme, which was rolled out in 2018 as a pilot scheme, has so far trained 87 personnel in three different cohorts. The third group of trainees from the Civil Service College Uganda in Jinja City graduated last week. There were 40 people in this group.
The President of the Uganda Veterinary Association (UVA), Dr. Daniel Kasibule, asked the Ministry of Agriculture to realign the veterinary management structure for better planning, control, and the necessary interventions to achieve field epidemiology in Uganda.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding the ISAVET programme as part of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is in charge of the training.
The FAO’s Deputy Country Representative, Priya Gujadhur, told URN that the ISAVET programme was started in 2018 as a pilot project. It was made by FAO and the University of Texas together to fill the gaps in Uganda’s animal health field epidemiology workforce.
The frontline training programme lasts for four months. It starts with four weeks of formal diagnostic training, followed by three months of home-based mentored skills projects at the trainees’ duty station. This gives the participants the knowledge and skills they need to do things like surveillance, outbreak investigation, emergency preparedness, disease prevention and control, and more.
The direct cost of zoonotic diseases at the global level over the last decade has been estimated to be more than $20 billion (Shillings 75.953 trillion) with over $200 billion (Shillings 759.535 trillion) in indirect losses to affected economies as a whole (World Bank 2010).
In the World Bank report, it was said that the effects of the disease are even worse because lives are lost, jobs are lost, and social welfare is lower. These effects are hard to measure for most diseases in developing countries like Uganda.