The pandemic has given us the most striking evidence that our health is inextricably linked to the health of animals and the health of the environment - the basis for the One Health approach that we have been implementing for years. It could not be clearer now that we must restore healthy environments and protect biodiversity, which means continuing our efforts to support communities living at the frontline of biodiversity conservation and climate change. If we don’t address the root causes of the pandemic, which are the loss of ecosystem functioning and biodiversity, then we are only treating the health and economic symptoms of the pandemic and will not reduce risks of another one emerging.
During the lockdown period in Morocco our activities have only been virtual, similar to the rest of the world. We nevertheless used this opportunity to organize a webinar on the importance of the One Health approach in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was attended by more than 300 participants. You can watch it on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxTqTRVYi9M
We will resume our field work as soon as national regulations allow for project teams to move around and resume vital One Health education programs to reduce risks of disease transmission between animals and humans, an issue which has become the entire world's concern today.
When in February we presented our project’s results during a One Health seminar at the Royal Academy and Academy Hassan II of Sciences and Techniques, we were starting to talk about the new coronavirus which had started to spread in Europe but the pandemic had not been declared yet. And today our project could not be more relevant: preventing diseases which emerge at the interface between humans, animals and their environment by protecting biodiversity, regenerating ecosystems and disseminating good practices about health prevention and the environment in local communities. If before coronaviruses epidemics were a remote concept to most people, we now know how such a new virus that has emerged at the interface Human/wildlife can affect the entire world. And these new viruses emerge and spread because we have converted ecosystems and degraded natural habitats to satisfy artificial needs for uniformization and globalization of our consuming habits, including food, bringing wildlife species into contacts that never existed before, and losing our resilience through these unsustainable lifestyles.
We are now preparing for the aftermath of the pandemic and end of the lock down period where our action will be more needed than ever: helping families to rebuild a livelihood centered around nature, protect their health and that of their children, teaching them health best practices and the value of biodiversity through One Health spaces in villages, developing village gardens of medicinal and aromatic plants to transfer environmental knowledge to new generations...
Please WATCH OUR VIDEO on the project page and help us prepare the after lockdown period by giving a donation.
Building on results we obtained this year about how people are affected by zoonotic diseases like rabies and leishmaniosis in the argan forest, and what they know about such risks which can be fatal, we are preparing a broad health education campaign in local villages for next year. This campaign will raise awareness on the risks represented by these diseases and more importantly on how to prevent them through behavioral changes to break the disease cycle. Through our work this year, we now know that people are aware of rabies although they don’t know how it is transmitted nor how to prevent it or how important it is to vaccinate dogs.
Our work also showed that people did not know anything about another important disease affecting both people and dogs, leishmaniosis. In fact, we detected leishmaniosis to be present in local people and the local dog population but nobody there was really aware of this disease transmitted by sandflies. This disease can be quite debilitating for people, leaving affected people with disfiguring scars and psychosocial trauma.
The objective of our One Health education campaign next year will be to bring behavioral changes that lead to break the transmission cycles of the disease, by making people aware of all the risks and symptoms of zoonotic diseases but of their roles in allowing disease transmission. What should they do when a dog attack them or children or if a dog bites somebody? How to stop being bitten by sandflies which live in crack walls or near waste dumps which can transmit leishmaniasis? Why do dogs need to be vaccinated again rabies?
Through simple language and known health education techniques based mainly on pictures, we will train trainers in villages and target at least 3,000 people in villages in the region of Agadir and Drarga. Your support is really needed to allow our specialist One Health team to conduct this highly important work next year which will save lives, especially of children.
We started to address the One health challenge represented by zoonotic disease in the argan forest last year by conducting rabies awareness campaigns in schools and dog vaccination campaigns in villages. This has led to a much better understanding by the local population of the risk represented by stray dogs and it allowed them to know what to do to avoid being bitten by dogs and to avoid the transmission of this fatal infection.
When visiting villages last year, the One Health team was able to identify that some another zoonotic disease affected the population: leishmaniasis. This parasitic infection is transmitted through the bites of infected sandflies, which are tiny insects found in mud wall cracks and animal burrows. Contrary to mosquitoes, sandflies are able to live in a multitude of environments as they do not need water to complete their life cycle. They bite from dusk to dawn and are silent flyers, making their bite going unnoticed. After a few weeks, skin lesions develop and can take a very long time to heal, leaving affected people with disfiguring scars and psychosocial trauma. This disease is largely unknown from the local population.
As a first step in our task to improve people and animal health while conserving natural ecosystems, our One Health team started to investigate the role of stray dogs in the transmission of leishmaniasis so that adapted preventive and control measures can be developed accordingly. Once we know more about disease transmission in the argan forest, we’ll be able to inform and protect both human and animal populations in the most effective way, helping to reduce a health burden which is already considerable in the area.
Dogs traditionally keep livestock and guard houses
Our dedicated One Health team is in action again in the argan forest to investigate the population ecology and health status of feral dogs which now roam free in this ecosystem.Traditionally, domestic dogs are kept by farmers and families with a role of guarding the house and of accompanying herds of famous argan goats to browse in the trees.
But there is now a new “type” of dogs: large packs of dogs which roam free in the forest and come occasionally to villages where they represent a threat to people and their livestock. They can attack people and byte them, they sometimes kill their livestock and they can also carry diseases which represent a huge risk to humans, like deadly rabies.
But the reality is that we will not be able to bring sustainable solutions to these problems without gaining a better understanding of the issues: Where do these dogs come from and where do they stay? What are the exact risks they represent in term of disease transmission? How often do they interact with other animals and people?
Our project is committed to finding answers to these new challenges so our team isnow conducting a scientific One Health investigation by questioning local people in villages, taking biological samples from these dogs and making observations of their behavior. This is a long-term investigation in which trust building and awareness raising with local communities is pivotal. But the dedication and expertise of our team will undoubtedly overcome these challenges. Now more than ever, we need you to support our team!
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