A new effort to align the work of partners in eastern Africa and implement more synergetic research on Rift Valley fever was the focus of a recent multi-stakeholder workshop that reviewed research strategies and approaches used by veterinarians, epidemiologists, economists and public health experts in projects across Kenya.
The meeting, which was held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in February 2012, discussed ILRI's Rift Valley fever research programme, potential collaborations with partners and options of controlling the mosquito-borne viral disease that affects cattle herds in eastern and southern Africa. Epidemics of the disease, which can also infect humans, emerge after above-average and widespread rainfall and lead to death and abortion in livestock.
Participating organizations, which are conducting research on Rift Valley fever, included Kenya's ministries in charge of livestock development and public health, the universities of Nairobi and Egerton, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and Kenya Medical Research Institute. Also attending the workshop were staff of the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the Nairobi office of the US Centres for Disease Control and Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations (FAO).
The research in Rift Valley fever was benefitting from increasing collaboration, Bernard Bett, an epidemiologist with ILRI, stated. These "joined up" efforts, were supporting joint assessments of the prevalence of zoonotic diseases in both animals and humans and were helping to increase the relevance of the research leading to more effective interventions.'
This strategy should lead to lower costs of doing research and implementing human and animal health interventions and a reduced burden of Rift Valley fever on the region's livestock, people, wildlife and markets.
During the meeting, ILRI shared findings from a collaborative project known as ‘Enhancing prevention and control of Rift Valley fever in East Africa by inter-sectorial assessment of control options.' For example, an analysis, by the project, of the public health burden of Rift Valley fever outbreaks measured in disability adjusted live years (DALYs) - the first of its kind in Kenya - shows that the 2006 and 2007 outbreak resulted in 3.4 DALYs per 1000 people. In 2008, ILRI estimated the disease cost the Kenyan economy US$30 million.
The Nairobi meeting discussed gaps in current research practice including the absence of climate models, sampling tools and methods to support decision support tools. Participants highlighted the need for a vector profile of the disease to enable mapping of most affected and high-risk areas and the need to understand how Rift Valley fever interacts between livestock and wildlife.
According to Tabitha Kimani, an agricultural economist with ILRI, preliminary cost benefit analysis is already showing that it is beneficial to control Rift Valley fever through vaccination.