Study: Funding and focus can better combat Rift Valley fever

Long-term success with the treatment of Rift Valley fever, a disease that is classified as a potential bioterrorism agent, depends on increased funding and global collaboration, according to a recent study.

Scientists with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied recent outbreaks of Rift Valley fever affecting humans and animals and the disease's classification as a bioterrorism agent. According to the study, published in the February issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the investment in the battle against Rift Valley fever may have skewed priority areas of focus too far in the direction of biopreparedness.

The research team said that while classifying the virus as a potential bioterrorism agent has increased investment, that classification has also brought increased restrictions on research to fewer and more expensive laboratories.

The study authors suggest a more balanced approach to funding and studying the disease.

"The ideal that should be adopted is a more equity-based approach in which funding and research are prioritized on a needs-identified basis for the aid of those most disadvantaged in the global community," the researchers said. "This approach would concentrate efforts on those interventions that most positively affect these vulnerable communities and, in addition, prevent or minimize the spread of the disease to previously non-disease-endemic high-income countries."

The authors said the fears of the Rift Valley fever virus being used as a bioterrorism agent should not overwhelm the need to protect impoverished communities from the disease.

"A greater sense of urgency and investment is required for controlling, better managing, and preventing future large-scale outbreaks of RVFV," the authors said. "Future long-term success lies in building on global collaborative initiatives, the closer integration of multilateral agencies, and a wider participation from livestock-importing countries and emerging economies that are investing in RVFV-endemic countries. A worldwide strategy, both in tune with and inspired by principles of equity and social justice, could ultimately deliver the best outcomes in combating this neglected tropical disease."

Rift Valley fever virus was first identified in 1931 among sheep in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya. In five major outbreaks in the past 15 years for which estimated numbers of human cases were published, approximately 339,000 people were infected by the disease.