ROME – Namibia was commended recently by Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (F.A.O.), for acting swiftly and effectively to halt the spread of Rift Valley Fever (R.V.F.) in the country during recent outbreaks. R.V.F. is a disease carried by mosquitoes after heavy rains and flooding and is characterized by high rates of abortion and neonatal mortality primarily in sheep, goats and cattle.

Humans are also at risk and can die when in close contact with the blood or organs of infected animals or when bitten by infected mosquitoes.

Namibian institutions involved in stemming this potential crisis were praised by Mr. Diouf while he was recently speaking at a meeting in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in Windhoek. "Their alertness and prompt reaction prevented outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever in May 2010 from spreading, with potentially devastating consequences on lives, livelihoods and food security," Mr. Diouf said.

The Meat Board of Namibia, the abattoirs where the disease was detected, the Directorate of Veterinary Services and the livestock farmers concerned were singled out by Mr. Diouf. The vigilance and response of the veterinary services was all the more remarkable, Mr. Diouf said, when considering that R.V.F emerged in Namibia after an absence of 25 years — almost all the staff involved had never had to fight the disease before.

An F.A.O. team comprising members of the Animal Production and Health Division and the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases deployed at the request of the government returned from Namibia full of praise for the professional performance of the veterinary services in handling the outbreaks. Dr Juan Lubroth, F.A.O.'s Chief Veterinary Officer said "The swift response is exemplary and very likely prevented worse from happening."

R.V.F. was first suspected by veterinary services in sheep from two farms in the Hardap/Karas regions on May 9. The disease was detected during inspection at the Farmers' Meat Market Abattoir in Mariental, when lesions of R.V.F. were recognized during examination.

"The positive contribution of Namibia in the fight against Rift Valley Fever has international significance," Mr. Diouf said. "For this reason, F.A.O. would like to formally recognize the preparedness and readiness in place in Namibia and the alertness of veterinary services. This is an inspiring example for other countries to follow to protect their animals, livelihoods, trade and indeed people, together with neighboring countries from serious animal diseases."

Rift Valley Fever will continue to pose threats, including to Namibia as the next rainy season — expected in October/November 2010 — brings the risks back. F.A.O. said it is prepared to provide support in defining the different options for control and prevention as part of Namibia's future strategy.