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Health | Science - Education

"Africa needs warning systems for wildlife diseases"

afrol News / SciDev.Net, 10 October - Africa needs early warning systems to deal with the increased threat of disease spreading from wild animals to humans such as Ebola, which will be further fuelled by climate change, according to international health experts.

The issue was discussed this week at the International Union for Conservation of Nature congress in Barcelona, Spain.

"Building warning systems and undertaking disease surveillance in places like the Congo Basin would be cheaper than building expensive machines to control an outbreak," said William Karesh, head of the Field Veterinary Programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The early warning systems he suggested included monitoring disease patterns in wild animals, and monitoring environmental changes and how these affect the behaviour of wild animals and pathogens.

These, he said, offer both fertile ground for building early warning systems and areas for future research. "Wild animals are more susceptible to new diseases than domesticated animals, and are good indicators of an impending outbreak," Mr Karesh said.

He said there are many wildlife pathogens, such as Ebola in the Congo Basin area, which may spread as a result of changing temperatures and precipitation caused by climate change.

Mr Karesh said African governments and the international community should train local people on how to detect signs of such diseases by monitoring the behaviour of wildlife and seasonality changes.

Michael Kock, associate wildlife veterinarian at the WCS, says that local indigenous knowledge could be tapped to help deal with these diseases. In Africa, Mr Kock says, most people - particularly in rural areas - have interacted closely with wildlife and there could be a wealth of information out there for researchers to mine.

"Indigenous knowledge can reveal past occurrences of some of these diseases and how they were dealt with, including the herbs used then to treat them. Scientists can then investigate these further using modern technology and methods," he concluded.

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