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Sierra Leone
Tuesday, May 17, 2022

FAO conducts a sensitization at the human, domestic, wildlife, and ecosystem interphase at Gola Forest

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, conducted a three-day sensitization of 11 communities at the human/ domestic/wildlife and ecosystem interface around the Gola Rainforest National Park in Pujehun.

The sensitisation, carried out by FAO, through its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD), brought community chiefs, “mammy queens”, female community leader and youth leaders from Zimmi, Pewa, Nyeyama, Gbekpa, Jeneva, Bayama, Sandebuima, Dombu, Baguima, Matai, and Ngiewuba to participate in interactive discussions and learning on zoonotic diseases.

The raising awareness session focused on the transmission pathways, prevention and control of priority zoonotic diseases and living with animals (domestic and wild animals) safely at the interface. They enabled community leaders to improve awareness on threats of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans and on ways to protect themselves from threats from contracting these infectious zoonotic diseases.

Sierra Leone is a major hotspot for emerging viral zoonotic diseases. Emerging and re-emerging disease infections in Sierra Leone are increasing because of its rich natural habitat, enormous wildlife species and increased human-wildlife interactions resulting from increased agricultural and hunting activities. The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in 2014-2015 greatly devastated the country’s economy, trade, tourism and social and economic wellbeing of the people.

Dr. Noelina Nantima, the Animal Health Advisor at FAO ECTAD, said, “This sensitization will raise awareness among the communities living near the interface on risks of disease transmission, prevention and control of priority zoonotic diseases”. She also added, “The community engagement will enable to document practices and behaviors that increase the risk of human exposure to Priority Zoonotic Diseases (PZDs) at the human, domestic, wildlife interface and to guide development of community led actionable plans for prevention and control of those PZDs”.

Lassa fever outbreaks in the country and Marburg virus disease outbreaks in neighbouring Guinea in 2021, as well as the discovery of Marburg virus in Fruit-eating bats, has put the county under high risk of pathogen spillover that may cause disastrous effects.

The initiative will support the communities to understand and build strength in handling and reporting wildlife mortalities and other abnormalities in the ecosystem; sentry in these communities will enable the identification, mapping of potential hotspots, the collection and testing of samples from domestic animals – wild birds and mammals at the interface.

Mr. Momoh Massaquoi, the Head of the Wildlife Unit at the Ministry of Environment, noted, surveillance help detect the potential outbreak of viral diseases affirmed that. “Previous investigations found that Lassa fever is dominant in the Kenema and Tonkolili district, this is the chance for us to rule out from this part of the country the presence of Lassa fever or any other potential zoonotic virus before it becomes a threat to the country”.

Following the community sensitization, 13 technical personnel from the Wildlife Unit and the livestock and Veterinary Services Division at the national and district level were trained on disease surveillance and reporting wildlife mortalities, morbidities and abnormalities. The training will enhance sample collection, processing and shipment, field biosafety and biosecurity. The trained officers will be implementing passive and active surveillance at the human-domestic-wildlife interface along the Gola Rainforest National Park in the Pujehun district.

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