The Food and Agriculture Organization unites experts against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) brought together technical experts from countries participating in the Emerging Pandemic Threats 2 (EPT-2) Program in an inter-regional consultative workshop on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) surveillance from 19 to 21 September 2023. The three-day workshop was held in Nairobi, Kenya, with the aim to facilitate knowledge sharing and explore future strategies for enhanced surveillance.
The emergence of MERS-CoV in 2012 brought to light a complex interplay between humans and camels. This virus induces respiratory ailments in humans while maintaining a sub-clinical presence in camels. With a global footprint spanning 27 countries, MERS-CoV has infected 2 605 individuals, leading to 937 associated fatalities – a 36 percent case fatality ratio. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks MERS-CoV among the top three high-threat zoonotic coronaviruses.
Since 2016, FAO, through its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD), partnered with countries across the Horn of Africa and Middle East – including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Jordan – to drive vigilant surveillance and applied research initiatives focused on MERS-CoV. This collective effort operates within the framework of the EPT-2 Program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Over the years, these collaborative studies have illuminated key insights, enhancing our comprehension of MERS-CoV's regional risks.
At the Opening Ceremony, USAID Regional Emerging Threats Advisor, Ricardo Echalar noted that “the project revealed 60 percent of camels in the Horn of Africa's arid and semi-arid lands show MERS-CoV infection evidence”. He also added that “the studies generated by the project have contributed to a deeper understanding of the risks associated with MERS-COV in countries.”
In representation of the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) in Kenya, Harry Oyas, Senior Deputy Director of the DVS affirmed that “In Kenya, we host around 6 million camels, and 80 percent of population of arid and semi-arid areas rely on camels as part of their livelihoods, transport or nutrition”.
FAO ECTAD Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Manager, Charles Bebay, on behalf of FAO Representative to Kenya, highlighted that “Though much has been achieved over the past almost one decade of investment in MERS-CoV, we need to continue to be vigilant in order to build on the gains made. We can leverage on the global advances in coronavirus diagnostics and vaccine production, which have exploded in the last 5 years due to COVID-19, to accelerate efforts to address the MERS-CoV threat”
Unmasking MERS-CoV: Insights and Innovations for a Safer Tomorrow
In East, North, and West Africa, camels host clade C MERS-CoV, distinct from the human clade B in the Middle East. Persistent knowledge gaps at the camel-human-environment interface underscore the need for ongoing surveillance to safeguard health and livelihoods. The upcoming workshop unites EPT-2 MERS-CoV Project leaders to share experiences and enhance surveillance strategies. This pivotal moment, as the project nears completion, provides an ideal opportunity for effective transitioning to sustain its impact.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of FAO Regional Office for Africa.