Continuing Professional Development Course in Animal Health Diagnostics – A capacity building initiative

cows and flees

In an effort to improve field and laboratory detection skills of vector-borne and transboundary livestock diseases for veterinarians, the School of Veterinary Medicine (SoVM) of the University of Zambia (UNZA) partnered with the Central Veterinary Research Institute (CVRI) to develop and conduct a short course in thematic area of animal health diagnostics.

Entitled, ‘Diagnosis of vector-borne and transboundary livestock diseases of veterinary importance’ the course was funded by the SANBio/BioFISA II Programme. Twenty three international and national participants were successfully enrolled for online training while 19 participants attended the on-site practical training at the University. 

The SoVM has adequate management capacity to offer such a training programme and has previously offered: the Third Country Training Programme for veterinarians in the region that was supported by Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for five years; a training programme for Japanese students in Tropical Veterinary Medicine that ran from 2005 to 2007; and several other short training to combat diseases like Avian Influenza, Plague, Ebola virus and many others. 

According to Project facilitator Ethel Mkandawire, the school decided to offer the training in Diagnosis of vector-borne and transboundary livestock diseases of veterinary importance because these diseases have a huge impact on livestock production. A large variety of diagnostic methods currently exist, however accurate diagnosis requires a combination of distinct approaches which should be known by veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals.

Vector-borne livestock diseases are infections transmitted by the bite of infected arthropod species, such as mosquitoes, ticks, triatomine bugs, sand-flies, and blackflies.   According to a 1999 report by International Livestock Research Institute, Africa has the highest annual herd cost of tick and tick-borne diseases globally. Arthropod vectors are cold-blooded (ectothermic) and thus especially sensitive to climatic factors. 

Weather influences survival and reproduction rates of vectors which in turn influencing habitat suitability, distribution and abundance; intensity and temporal pattern of vector activity (particularly biting rates) throughout the year; and rates of development, survival and reproduction of pathogens within vectors – according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 

Transboundary livestock diseases are highly contagious epidemic diseases that can spread extremely rapidly, irrespective of national borders. They cause high rates of death and disease in animals, thereby having serious socio-economic and sometimes public health consequences while constituting a constant threat to the livelihoods of livestock farmers.

The course consisted of a pre-requisite theory interactive web-based component and a face to face, hands-on, residential laboratory practical component that was conducted at the two institutions.

“Participants had to attain a minimum pass grade from the online component of the modules prior to being able to attend the hands-on practical training which was hosted by UNZA. However, participants who passed the online component but were unable to attend the practical session were given a certificate of participation in the online course only,” Mkandawire explained.

The course lasted from 1st May until 4th August, 2018 and was delivered in seven modules, namely: Introduction to vector-borne diseases; Introduction to TADs; Diagnostic acarology and entomology; Fundamentals of livestock disease diagnosis I; Microscopic diagnosis of livestock diseases; Fundamentals of livestock disease diagnosis II: serological diagnosis of livestock diseases; Fundamental of livestock disease diagnosis III; Molecular diagnosis of livestock diseases; and Applied surveillance and monitoring systems.

Following the successful delivery of the course, Mkandawire said that SoVM plans to offer more short courses and develop blended learning postgraduate courses in the future.
Mkandawire said she also believes that the desire for regional participants to pursue further studies at the school will help establish networking linkages in the region for research in animal and human health. 

“The veterinary school has gained valuable experience in conducting a blended learning course. This has also increased the visibility of the school with both local and regional participants expressing interest in pursuing post-graduate programme at the school,” she said.

“The joint application for this partnered training course between CVRI and the school has strengthened the collaboration between two institutions, plus we plan to upgrade the short course to a postgraduate diploma in diagnosis of infectious diseases of human and animals,” Mkandawire continued.

Grateful for the opportunity provided by SANBio/BioFISA II Programme to host the programme, she also said that the school would be willing to continue collaborating with SANBio as well as other regional teaching/research establishment to foster growth in science, research and technology for economic development in the sub-region.