ZAMBIA – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has spearheaded a multisectoral team in curbing an Anthrax outbreak in Zambia.

Residents of Sinazongwe, southern Zambia, reported mysterious sores attributed to consumed meat during the summer of 2023.

What made this crisis particularly perplexing was the absence of any signs of disease in domestic animals, deepening the mystery.

In response, a swift and coordinated effort was launched, showcasing the power of unity, collaboration, and the One Health approach in the face of adversity.

The FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Diseases (ECTAD), with support from the FAO Global Health Security (GHS) program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), spearheaded a multi-sectoral team.

Comprising members from the Department of Veterinary Services, the Ministry of Health, and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, this team embraced the One Health philosophy, recognizing the intricate connection between human, animal, and environmental health.

Led by local leaders and representatives, the team delved into extensive fieldwork, engaging with affected communities in Sinazongwe district.

Their investigation confirmed anthrax as the culprit behind the mysterious sores. A crucial stakeholder meeting followed, leading to a vaccination campaign that covered thousands of cattle, goats, and sheep, effectively disrupting the disease cycle.

Simultaneously, rigorous sanitation measures and heightened awareness efforts were implemented, ensuring a comprehensive approach to disease control.

Crucially, collaboration extended beyond human and domestic animal boundaries. Wildlife authorities were actively involved, leading to enhanced monitoring of wildlife and the prevention of illegal livestock routes, halting the disease’s spread.

“The collaborative spirit and expertise shared during this critical phase were invaluable. Our unified efforts have saved lives and fortified our community against future challenges,” acknowledged Dr. Wilfred Tembo, the Provincial Veterinary Officer for Southern Province.

The incident underscores the significance of surveillance, information exchange, and global partnership in safeguarding human and animal wellbeing.

Anthrax is a zoonotic bacterial disease that primarily impacts herbivores but can also endanger humans, mammals, and sometimes birds. It is recognized as a significant global health concern with outbreaks occurring worldwide in ecosystems that support the survival of Bacillus anthracis spores.

Syndromic surveillance in animals is instrumental in detecting zoonotic diseases like anthrax before they spread to humans. This approach, rooted in the One Health concept, effectively identifies early clusters of illnesses, enabling swift responses and reducing the socio-economic and health consequences of outbreaks.

In Kenya, FAO has supported the development of the Kenya Livestock and Wildlife Syndromic Surveillance (KLWSS) system to strengthen the country’s animal health syndromic surveillance.

Powered by the Kenya Animal Biosurveillance System (KABS) app, this real-time electronic surveillance system enhances the sensitivity of monitoring livestock and wildlife health in Kenya.

FAO has also spearheaded workshops on anthrax prevention and control in West African countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, and Togo.

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