Strengthening prevention and scientific expertise to combat Rift Valley fever

Launch of a new OIE laboratory twinning project in Senegal

On 17th June 2019, the National Laboratory for Livestock and Veterinary Research of the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA/LNERV) and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) - joint research unit ASTRE – launched a new OIE laboratory twinning project for Rift Valley fever in Dakar, Senegal.

Rift Valley fever (RVF) is a viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes to different species of domestic and wild animals. RVF outbreaks result in loss of livestock with adverse consequences on the livelihoods of affected herders. It also puts their own health at risk in case of contamination.

RVF outbreaks have been regularly recorded in Senegal since the first occurrence of the disease at country level in 1987, the most recent dating from 2015. At regional level, the virus has been particularly active in Mauritania since 2010. More recently and for the first time, Niger and Mali reported RVF outbreaks, in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Effective epidemiological surveillance networks which allow the detection of the very first suspected cases and laboratory tests confirming the diagnosis are the first line of defence to stop the spread of the disease.

This is where the laboratory twinning between the LNERV and the joint research unit ASTRE of the CIRAD, which already has the status of national reference laboratory for Rift Valley fever in France, comes in. This technical and scientific collaboration, to be implemented from 2019 to 2021, will help strengthen the capacities of the LNERV for diagnostic and risk assessment with regards to RVF. Various activities such as staff exchanges through the development of a high-level training program, the analysis of local and regional risk factors, and the early detection of the virus among mosquito populations will involve researchers from both institutions.

This twinning project also offers new opportunities for prevention and control. Through the acquisition of the Clone 13 vaccine strain, a veterinary vaccine against RVF will be produced locally by the LNERV teams. This vaccine will be tested, as part of a pilot experiment, on animals from at-risk areas to assess its potential and prospective future scale-up.

At the regional level, CIRAD and the LNERV will join forces to enhance synergies with surveillance networks, veterinary services and research centers and universities, as well as with the regional network of national veterinary diagnostic laboratories in West and Central Africa (RESOLAB) and the West African Health Organization (WAHO), a specialized agency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

For the LNERV, the launch of this twinning project represents a further step in its application for the status of OIE Reference Laboratory for Rift Valley fever, which, if granted, would represent a real scientific asset for the West Africa region. This would reinforce, at international level, the scientific expertise and standardisation role of the LNERV regarding RVF, and its ability to provide high-level advice on the diagnosis and prophylaxis of the disease. To date, only the Institut Pasteur of Paris (Antiviral Strategies Unit - Department of Virology) and the Agricultural Research Council-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (ARC-OVR) in South Africa have been granted this status worldwide.

Established in 1935 as the 'Livestock Central Laboratory’, the LNERV has a unique and vast experience in animal health. It has played a key role in the eradication of rinderpest in Senegal and West Africa, for which it already had the support of CIRAD scientists.

This twinning project is implemented with the financial support of the European Union. This support is channeled through the EBO-SURSY project, which aims to strengthen the capacities of veterinary laboratories to improve early detection systems and prevention of viral hemorrhagic fevers in West and Central Africa as one of its main objectives.