Outbreaks of infectious disease threaten the health of people (Ebola virus disease, SARS, COVID-19, monkeypox, MERS, avian influenza) and animals (Peste des Petits Ruminants, African swine fever, chytridiomycosis and white-nose syndrome). The majority of emerging infectious diseases of humans are zoonotic (transmitted between animals and humans), and of these emerging zoonoses, over 70% originate in wildlife. The Wildlife Health Surveillance Network, referred to as WildHealthNet, is a regional initiative supporting national governments in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam to build and implement national wildlife health surveillance strategies. The project aims to enhance the ability of these nations to safely detect, monitor, trace, and report emerging and dangerous pathogens and the diseases they cause, to facilitate more rapid response and mitigation. More rapid identification of wildlife pathogens can benefit public health, livestock health, rural livelihoods and food security, and conservation. This work is funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) of the U.S. Department of Defense, and builds on the WCS Health Program’s expertise in One Health policy, pathogen surveillance (USAID's PREDICT 2), and wildlife surveillance activities in SE Asia (LACANET).
WCS works with government partners at district, provincial, and national levels, to collaboratively develop national strategies and policies that will bolster wildlife health surveillance both within each country and across the region. Emphasis is placed on integrating these strategies with existing national surveillance and One Health platforms in order to improve effectiveness and sustainability.
Wildlife Health Surveillance Standard Operating Procedure development in Lao PDR with government partners from animal health and environmental sectors. Photo: WCS Lao PDR
Given the major biosecurity, economic, and conservation implications of emerging and re-emerging diseases, WildHealthNet worked closely with national governments to identify priority pathogens. In coordination with government departments and local partners, WCS is establishing on the ground active surveillance activities for these pathogens in wildlife populations, particularly at high-risk wildlife-livestock-human interfaces.
WCS is also strengthening nation-wide passive surveillance activities through increased wildlife morbidity and mortality event detections and investigations in protected areas, building histopathology and molecular diagnostic capacity at national laboratories, and improving reporting and response times for observed events.
Sample collection for Avian Influenza Virus (AIV) testing from a sick Asian openbill stork in Tram Chim National Park, Dong Thap province, Viet Nam. Photo: WCS Viet Nam
Training and Capacity Building In each country, the WildHealthNet team is training laboratory staff, forest rangers, and government personnel in wildlife morbidity and mortality investigations, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), wildlife carcass and sample collection, sample and disease reporting using state-of-the-art technologies, such as SMART for Health and the WCS adapted version of the Wildlife Health Information Platform (WHIP). Specifically, SMART for Health is a set of technological components that include a smartphone app, a desktop software, and an online extension. These tools allow the proper collection of wildlife disease data (geolocation of events, photographs, animals involved, and more), the communication of sick or dead wildlife findings in real-time, and the administration and analysis of this information. WHIP is a centralized database with an online user interface that stores and organizes the data collected via SMART for Health on-the-fly. This database is also designed to administer information generated out-of-the-field, such as necropsies and corresponding photographs, the storage of samples, and the result of diagnostic tests including infectious agents. Through equipping governments and relevant partners with the tools and training needed to rapidly report and respond to disease events and potential outbreaks, we are working to protect the health and security of animals and people in the Mekong region.
Forest rangers in Cambodia receive wildlife morbidity/mortality event detection and response training. Photo: WCS Cambodia
WildHealthNet in Action African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious and fatal viral disease that affects both domestic and wild pigs. Predominantly a disease of sub-Saharan Africa, ASF was introduced to China in 2018 and rapidly spread throughout the region, decimating pig populations and causing significant economic losses. ASF spread to domestic pigs in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Lao PDR in 2019, and WildHealthNet facilitated the first detection of African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) in free ranging wild boar (Denstedt et al. 2020) in these countries. This rapid detection enabled safety measures to be put in place, highlighting the huge value of pathogen surveillance at the wildlife-livestock interface.
In addition to active ASF investigations in coordination with government officials and NGOs, WildHealthNet is supporting passive participatory surveillance and reporting of wild boar carcasses by villagers, hunters, rangers, and animal health workers through community outreach and educational posters. (See posters here in English, Laotian, and Vietnamese)