A program that is increasingly better accepted by the Shangaan communities
Since 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.
In 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
This 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
Reducing 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