OneHealth Program in the Congo Basin

David Santiago
Published: 02 March 2022
Last edited: 08 September 2023
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Summary

In one of the world's hotspots for zoonotic epidemics, the Congo Basin, WWF Germany has contributed significantly to the establishment of an early warning system for zoonotic pathogen outbreaks.

In two ecotourism sites, Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas (Central African Republic) and Campo Ma'an National Park (Cameroon), WWF has been following a One Health approach since 2012, which takes into account wildlife and human health as well as intact natural habitats. From the beginning, WWF has been working closely with the Robert Koch-Institute (since 2021: Helmholtz Institute for One Health, HIOH).

 

The goal of the One Health Program is to establish a health monitoring system for people, wildlife and their habitat that benefits the local population in terms of their health and natural livelihoods. The aim is to rapidly detect the spread of zoonotic pathogens in order to establish an early warning system for disease outbreaks (including Ebola, monkeypox and anthrax).

Classifications

Region
West and Central Africa
Scale of implementation
Global
Local
Multi-national
Ecosystem
Forest ecosystems
Tropical evergreen forest
Theme
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Food security
Forest Management
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
One Health
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Sustainable livelihoods
Tourism
World Heritage
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Species Status Assessment
Wildlife Health Surveillance (to capture biodiversity, health, disease, and pathogen surveillance)
Species Monitoring and Research
Species Disease Early warning systems
Risk communication, community engagement and behaviour change
Outbreak investigation and access to laboratory
One Health coordination mechanism
One Health
Animal health
Biodiversity-health nexus
Health related aspects of socio-economic factors such as poverty, education, social security structures, digitalisation, financing systems, human capacity development 
Neglected tropical diseases, emerging infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance
Wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflicts
Challenges
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Vector and water borne diseases
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Poaching
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of food security
Lack of infrastructure
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge

Location

Bayanga, Sangha-Mbaéré Economic, Central African Republic | Cameroon
Campo, South, Cameroon

Challenges

  • Human & Animal Health - In the Congo Basin, people come into close contact with wildlife, through wildlife trade and bushmeat consumption, habitat degradation and ecotourism. This bears the risk of zoonotic spillover events between wildlife and humans. Epidemic outbreaks can threathen human population, as well as animal population (especially rare western lowland gorilla population).

  • Public health infrastructure - Access to care is often very limited.

  • Monitoring & Research - The forests in the Congo Basin harbour some of the world’s deadliest infectious agents such as Ebola viruses and Aanthrax-causing bacteria. Yet, in the those remote areas, we often lack data and infrastructure to set up monitoring systems.

  • Intact natural habitat - Habitats lose their function to act as natural barriers if they disappear through deforestation and degradation due to settlements, road building, clearing for agriculture, timber extraction, mining, wildlife trade.

Beneficiaries

  • Local and national health care & civil society actors
  • Conservation and ecotourism employees and their families
  • Local and indigenous population
  • International research community
  • Local researchers
  • Ecotourism
  • Habituated wildlife

How do the building blocks interact?

Monitoring of wildlife and human health as well as sensitisation and training elements are both essential to improve health and wellbeing of people and reduce the risk of disease transmission between people and wildlife with potentially deadly consequences.

This approach has proven successful during the COVID-19 pandemic. While awareness was raised about the unknown disease and preventive mesaures, strict measures had also been taken to protect the habituated gorillas from potential infection. Regular testing for both employees as well as the local population have been undertaken in the field laboratory, health status of apes were closely monitored as part of the early warning system and sensitisation programs were launched to prevent and reduce spreading of the disease within the communities.

 

In Dzanga-Sangha and Campo Ma'an, the field laboratories and related human resources are integral part of the protected area management. Involvement and targeting of local and indigenous population is a key element, not only in preventing zoonotic diseases, but also in assuring sustainable development and longterm support for conservation in the areas. Which is essential to protect habitats as natural barriers for zoonotic spillovers.

Impacts

Long before One Health was publicly known, WWF was doing pioneering work in the Congo Basin. Thanks to the field laboratory built in 2012 in Dzanga-Sangha, it is possible to test for for highly infectious diseases such as Ebola or anthrax. The field laboratory in Dzanga-Sangha has been expanded since 2017 and a second field laboratory has been established in Campo Ma'an. Impacts of the WWF One Health Program includes:

 

Animal health - The laboratory analyses allow regular monitoring of pathogen prevalence in wild animal carcasses and habituated great apes. Health statuts of habituated great apes is continously monitored.

 

Research - Regular and systematic sampling since 2012 provides WWF and RKI/HIOH with 10 years of data, which is of immense value for long-term studies.

 

Human Health - The program includes regular health care for employees and their families. Access to health care for the local and indigenous population in the regions is also facilitated.

 

Public health - Cooperation between local actors has been improved to react quickly in suspected cases of zoonotic diseases. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the laboratory in Dzanga-Sangha was one of two laboratories in the entire CAR that could test for COVID-19.

 

Capacity building - Two local veterinarians and numerous laboratory assistants have received indepth training.

Story

Thomas Nicolon

Protecting Habituated Great Apes against Corona disease infection

Great Apes are susceptible to human diseases. Strict measures are taken to protect habituated western lowland gorillas to protect them from COVID-19.

https://dzanga-sangha.org/covid-19-and-gorillas/

 

Improved access to health care

Human wellbeing and the protection of the rainforest are inextricably linked. WWF supports health care for local and indigenous people through mobile health units, improved access to health care and intervention by health specialists.

https://dzanga-sangha.org/stories/sustainable-development-and-education/

Contributed by

celine.dillmann_41559's picture

Elise Heral WWF Germany