Early Warning System for Rift Valley Fever
Containment of the animal illness in Kenya
Rift Valley Fever (RVF) has been present in East Africa and the Middle East at irregular intervals since the 1930s. It is transmitted to animals by infected mosquitos. Although humans are rarely directly infected, they can be infected if they come into immediate contact with diseased animals or eat their meat.
The project seeks to locate the whereabouts of the pathogen (virus), identify risk areas promptly and if outbreaks occur to ensure that a programme of targeted and preventive inoculation is carried out by government agencies.
This requires information on the infected mosquitos, i.e. the carriers (vectors) of the virus. Staff from the local health authorities - Community Health Workers - help by sending information and potentially infected mosquitos to icipe, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi. The mosquitos are examined in the laboratory to see whether they have the RVF pathogen and this in turn makes it possible to identify the areas at risk. The information is fed into the National Emergency Plan.
If an animal becomes ill, farmers must respond in the right way. Local project managers and veterinary authorities disseminate information in order to prevent the spread to other animals as well as transmission to humans. Animals with the disease must be removed from the herd, humanely slaughtered and then burned. During this process, it is important to avoid any contact with the animal's blood.
The disease is of particular concern to herders and their families as it directly affects their livestock, i.e. their main source of income. During the last RVF outbreak in Kenya in 2006/2007, some 1,100 humans were infected and 300 died. The loss in income from diseased animals was USD9 million.
For safety reasons, the project moved from Garissa County to Isiolo County at the end of 2016. In the new project area, 600 people and some 40 health professionals are benefiting from the measures. In the event of an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in Isiolo County, it is estimated that up to 100,000 would be directly or indirectly affected.
Objectives of current project phase
- Monitor the mosquitoes that transmit the disease and train government Community Health Workers and other direct beneficiaries
- Prevent RFT by analysing levels of knowledge of the disease within local populations using a KAP Study (Knowledge, Atittude and Practices) and then provide relevant training
- Improve further the government’s Action Plan and produce an Emergency Plan
An initial KAP Survey ((Knowledge, Attitude and Practices) asked 500 residents about Rift Valley Fever and the role of mosquitoes in spreading it. The aim of the survey – managed by 10 trained members of the community - was to identify what local people already knew about RVF. The data collection phase was concluded last October.
In Garissa County, a total of 41 Community Health Workers were trained in the early detection and prevention of RVF. They were taught how to recognise the RVF mosquitoes and distinguish them from other mosquitos such as those that transmit malaria. They also learned how to erect mosquito traps. 350 households from four villages attended regular meetings at which RVF information was disseminated and prevention methods were demonstrated.
Even though the project in Garissa County was ended prematurely, there is a good chance that the prevention and early-detection measures will continue and so local people will still benefit. From the start, the project had worked to develop existing health structures and cooperated closely with local health experts. For example, healthcare professionals are now able to include in their official work both RVF monitoring and the importance of prevention. The project will continue to serve as a model in order to motivate local authorities and health bodies to integrate the measures long term into their strategies and budgets.
In addition, the previous project phases have shown that the active inclusion of local people in the Project has been crucial. It has ensured that there is long-term support for self-help in the fight against Rift Valley Fever. Direct beneficiaries are highly motivated and want to help in the fight against RVF. As a result of this groundwork, the activities are now embedded locally for the longer term and this will ensure that they continue in future.