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Traditional knowledge key to managing Rift Valley fever

Rift Valley fever primarily affects cattle, sheep, camels and goats (© R Dolan/ILRI)
Rift Valley fever primarily affects cattle, sheep, camels and goats
© R Dolan/ILRI

By assessing key risk factors and symptoms, such as an increase in rainfall and high abortion rates, Somali and Maasai herders accurately predicted the outbreak of Rift Valley fever in 2006/07 long before veterinary and public health interventions began, researchers have discovered. "Timely outbreak response requires effective early warning and surveillance systems," say authors of a study. "This study points out the important role that livestock keepers can play in veterinary surveillance."

In the assessment, carried out by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Kenyan and Tanzanian departments of veterinary services, the researchers observed that Somali pastoralists were particularly good at recognising the symptoms and predicting likely disease outbreaks. The pastoralists' observations proved more timely and definitive than the global early warning system in use at the time of the 2006/07 outbreak. The authors have therefore called for traditional knowledge of pastoralists in East Africa to be included in programmes to better control livestock diseases in the region.

The researchers also conclude that Rift Valley fever outbreaks could be better managed if disease control workers were able to run models that combined economic and epidemiologic factors. This would enable scientists to better determine the benefits of implementing different disease surveillance and control methods, and the best times for intervention in differing circumstances. Spread by mosquitoes, Rift Valley fever primarily affects cattle, sheep, camels and goats.

Date published: December 2010


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