Virbac foundation: animal health at the heart of ecosystems’ health

As part of its mission to raise public awareness on animal health, Virbac has been supporting for three years a One Health programme in the Gonarezhou national park in Zimbabwe: field actions aimed at improving the health conditions of local animal and human populations. The Virbac foundation is currently working on the roll-out of new actions. 

Many health challenges have emerged on the fringes of Gonarezhou national park – “the Place of the Elephants” – where the Shangaan communities have always lived. First, rabies made a comeback in 2013 with human and animal cases. This zoonosis is still being underestimated in areas as remote as Mahenye where Shangaan families with very little information often think that their children are suffering from forms of cerebral malaria. As happened in the case described by the village nurse about this 10-year-old girl who died of rabies in 2013: “In any case, even if we had known it was rabies, the family would not have been able to do anything because the post-bite treatment is only available 150 km from here and it costs more than $300.”


The more insidious risks of other zoonoses such as bovine tuberculosis (whose main wild reservoir population is the buffalo), brucellosis, and anthrax are higher in this region due to the intensification of contact between humans and both domestic and wild animals, around water points and grazing areas that become scarcer as the seasons change and also due to climate change. As a result, bovine tuberculosis also reappeared in 2009 in the bovine population around the park, after the disease progressed among buffalo herds from South Africa. Prevalences of 3% and 2% were detected around the park in buffalo and domestic cattle herds, respectively. Brucellosis also affects 16% of domestic cattle around the park and more than 20% of buffaloes. Anthrax outbreaks are also increasing, coming mostly from its emergence in wild species and sometimes causing the loss of a family’s entire herd, and human contamination in a third of the cases. The risk of transmission of zoonoses to humans is all the greater because these populations have their immunity compromised by other infections as well as precarious food security.

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A program that is increasingly better accepted by the Shangaan communities

Awareness_School18_web.jpgSince 2015, the program supported by the Virbac foundation has implemented an annual rabies vaccination campaign in the Mahenye community. Initiated as an emergency response after the identification of cases of human rabies, vaccination was initially poorly perceived by the Shangaan who were convinced that it could kill their dogs or reduce their hunting skills. Such a belief is rooted in the cultural history of this people, whose hunting tradition has always been reprimanded by the authorities of the national parks. Thanks to the awareness campaigns carried out by the project and to the real commitment and perseverance of the veterinary team, who have now become familiar faces in the communities, the 2017 vaccination campaign took place in a climate of increased trust. For the first time, young Shangaan volunteered to assist veterinarians in handling the animals and to mobilize other dog owners.

Dogs_kids_5dogs.jpgIn 2017, the vaccination campaign reached more dogs than in 2016 (+4.3%), thus achieving a vaccination coverage of 53%. No cases of human rabies have been reported since the start of vaccination in 2015, but the target of 70% immunization coverage still needs to be achieved to effectively protect the population. In order to better understand the perception of immunization by the different segments of the Shangaan population and to obtain a more reliable estimate of the domestic dog population, the project has also just conducted a baseline study in households in the Mahenye community.


Raising awareness in local communities and schoolchildren

Awareness_IISchool6.jpgThis is long-term work, as the perception of the concept of disease among the Shangaan is rooted in a more holistic vision of health with strong spiritual and cultural dimensions. An awareness campaign on the prevention and control of rabies and other zoonoses kicked off in 2016. Based on educational materials specially developed by the project using several formats (handbook, poster, presentation), some of which have been translated into the local language, the awareness-raising workshops cover the general concept of zoonoses and prevention through improved hygiene and enhanced health surveillance. In 2017, One Health awareness workshops were extended to 13 communities living around the park. These workshops will now be integrated into all wildlife conservation awareness campaigns that are regularly conducted around the park with local communities.

Better prevention through integrated water and nutrition management

WomenPumpingWater4.jpgReducing the interface and the risks of contact between wildlife and domestic animals as well as the risks of human contamination are among the objectives of the One Health program that the Virbac foundation helps to achieve. This involves the integrated management of water supplies. The provision of a second water supply system for livestock is in development – the first having been set up in 2016 for nearly 500 animals. This new drinking water supply in one of the most remote areas of the Mahenye community will also allow the development of a vegetable garden for some 50 families to improve their food security during the dry season.



One Health extended to Southern African transfrontier parks

In light of the encouraging results of the project around the Gonarezhou park, a pilot program was initiated with the support of the Virbac foundation in the Kavango-Zambezi transfrontier park, around the Hwange national park. Covering over 35 conservation areas spread over five countries, this park is home to the largest elephant population in Africa. The establishment of a disease surveillance and control program against zoonotic diseases and major cattle diseases that are endemic to the region has already been met with great success among farmers of the local Manbanje community, where a community-based health monitoring program is gradually being implemented.

One Health, at the heart of the Sustainable development goals of the Agenda 2030 for the planet

Through its One Health initiatives for the conservation of endangered wildlife, biodiversity, and community development, the Virbac foundation is contributing to 5 of the 17 Sustainable development goals (SDG) of the Union Nations’ Agenda 2030: no poverty (1), “zero” hunger (2), good health and well-being (3), clean water and sanitation (6), and life on land (15). The establishment of partnerships between all the project’s stakeholders, including those in the area of conservation1, government partners2, the European Union and the private sector which includes the Virbac foundation, is also contributing to SDG17 (partnerships for the goals).


One Health for future generations

November 3rd has now been declared “One Health” day everywhere around the world. In the Shangaan community of Mahenye, schoolchildren have already contributed to this global day by participating in the awareness workshops on zoonoses. As this day was celebrated to mark the end of the week of immunization against rabies, it also paved the way for a better future for young Shangaan schoolchildren, future stakeholders and protectors of their health and the health of the planet.


1 project WILD, Zim Wild-Vet Trust, African Wildlife Conservation Fund, Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, African Bushcamps Foundation, Hwange Lion Research
2 Department of Veterinary Services, Department of wildlife & National parks