Published: 27/04/2016 15:18:53
The AHT goes international to help scientists control equine diseases
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is the intergovernmental organisation responsible for improving animal health worldwide, with a global network consisting of 252 Reference Laboratories that cover 118 diseases in 39 countries. The Animal Health Trust is an OIE Reference Lab for both equine influenza virus and equine rhinopneumonitus (equine herpesvirus), and participates in the OIE Twinning Programme.
The Twinning Programme gives our scientists the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with labs in other countries. Some of these are in much poorer and less developed regions, with limited resources and less-developed infrastructure. Under the Twinning Programme format the AHT acted as the “parent lab” to the NRCE (National Research Centre for Equines), which is based in Hisar, India. During the last 3 years the AHT has provided training and expertise, with the main aim to help the NRCE achieve a reliable testing process to detect equine flu that can be readily implemented throughout India. Many communities, especially those in the more remote regions of India rely on horses for their entire livelihood; whether it is working in the field, carrying loads between market and home, or pulling taxi carts to earn a living, to name just a few examples. It is therefore vitally important that these animals are kept in the best possible health and that disease is prevented, or diagnosed and managed, to reduce any potential financial loss.
The NRCE’s mission is to “achieve freedom from dreaded equine diseases through development of modern diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics”. However, they face quite a few challenges when it comes to the spread of disease. Horses, donkeys, ponies and mules are often brought together in large numbers at markets, fairs and for tourism (including many religious pilgrimages). One of the largest Hindu pilgrimages is to the Mata Rani Shrine in the mountains. This can involve up to 10 million pilgrims trekking over 14km in harsh conditions to reach the shrine, with animals from all regions congregating closely together. This becomes a potential hub for serious outbreaks of disease, including equine flu, which then spread throughout India and neighbouring countries.
The Twinning Programme was initiated with key members of the NRCE visiting the AHT in 2014, and again in 2015 to continue learning methods, procedures and processes that could be implemented back in India. Debra Elton (Head of Virology) and Liz Medcalf (Laboratory Manager) visited their institute in 2014 to witness their progress, and again in 2015 to attend and assist at a workshop involving attendees from the neighbouring SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries. During this period there had been some great improvements to both the available resources and skills of the NRCE team, assisted greatly by the support made available by Government funding and the invaluable AHT learning materials. "The team at the NRCE has an incredible work ethic," says Debra. "They do brilliant work under difficult conditions, and over the last few years they have come on leaps and bounds. It is always an eye-opening and humbling experience to visit India and see them working both in the field and in the labs. It makes us feel very privileged with all of the technology and equipment we have available back at the AHT, not to mention a reliable electricity supply!"
The ultimate goal is for the NRCE to become the OIE Reference Lab in India, as presently only Europe and the USA have these facilities. Each visit has helped develop new skills and understanding on dealing with equine flu, which will lead to greatly improved health and welfare for the animals there. Liz commented, “We have been able to help the NRCE team’s skills in equine flu diagnostics, one way was by helping them develop and validate their own ELISA test to detect the equine flu virus in nasal swabs. The ELISA technique is a great addition to the NRCE lab’s services, as the equipment required and the processes involved are relatively inexpensive, it is excellent for testing large sample numbers, and the results can be easily available within a day. This can mean that a rapid diagnosis and recommended treatment plan can be provided, as well as allowing the NRCE to carry out further research on any isolates found, for disease surveillance of equine flu within the country. Monitoring outbreaks and determining any changes in the pathogen can help identify strains that may have the potential to cause further outbreaks or vaccine breakdown. It is of course important that all of our training is applicable and appropriate to their situation and the facilities available. We are hopeful that the NRCE will reach their goal of Reference Lab status in the near future.”
As well as working hard in the labs, the NRCE run an outreach programme to help educate owners and local communities in equine health care and infectious diseases. They provide information about the available vaccines (often produced by the NRCE), give free health checks and treatments, as well as sampling horses, donkeys and mules for equine influenza. The results of these samples aid their surveillance of equine diseases circulating in the country.
We are very proud to provide support not only to equine vets in the UK, but also overseas, and the Twinning Programme is proving to be a real success. We wish the NRCE the best of luck with the rest of their training and thank them for taking such good care of our disease surveillance team!
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