In a mission to enhance companion animal veterinary care in Africa, the African Small Companion Animal Network (AFSCAN) project has launched an infectious disease research programme to widen knowledge of the arthropod-borne diseases in sub-saharan Africa. 

The AFSCAN project is a global initiative of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA’s) Foundation, who are working to improve the standards of veterinary care across Africa through education and a network of companion animal veterinarians, associations and specialist groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. The new research programme was launched at a meeting of the participants, held in Arusha, Tanzania, on December 5th. It will run throughout 2019 and is being supported by Bayer Animal Health.

Emeritus Professor Michael J Day (center) with members of the AFSCAN Surveillance Project team (left to right): Dr Tayebwa Dickson from Uganda, Dr Ortwin Aschenborn from Namibia, Dr Foluke Adedayo Akande from Nigeria, Dr Sherry Johnson from Ghana, Dr Jahashi Nzalawahe from Tanzania and Professor Samuel Githigia from Kenya.

The aim of the surveillance programme is to “characterise the tick and flea species infesting cats and dogs in sub-Saharan Africa and to identify arthropod-borne infectious agents that might be carried by those ectoparasites or found in parasitized animals”. This will be executed by a team of six veterinary parasitologists from the participating countries: Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria,Tanzania and Uganda.

Each country will provide samples from 100 dogs and 50 cats from urban and rural locations in two different geographical regions. The sample collection will be coupled with a local rabies vaccination as well as an ectoparasite preventive campaign co-ordinated by the investigator. This study will produce a substantial database and valuable biobank of samples for future research. 

Commenting, Emeritus Professor Michael J Day, the project leader and a member of the AFSCAN and WSAVA Foundation Boards and WSAVA Honorary Treasurer, said, “This is an exciting opportunity for the African companion animal veterinary community as there is almost no baseline knowledge about the major arthropod-borne infectious diseases in dogs and cats in Africa, some of which are zoonotic in nature.”

“This new AFSCAN project will provide disease distribution maps for Africa, giving veterinary practitioners a valuable tool for the control and prevention of these infections in their countries. We have assembled a team of exceptionally well-qualified and enthusiastic veterinary parasitologists who will undertake the sample collection and are working with a world-renowned laboratory for sample analysis.”

He continued, “We are very grateful to our major project sponsor, Bayer Animal Health, for providing this opportunity for the African veterinary community, and to Zoetis, which continues to provide the core funding for AFSCAN.  This is the largest and most significant research programme to emerge from the highly successful AFSCAN project, which celebrated its fifth year of working in Africa in 2018.”

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