Authors: Prof. Mohamed El Zowalaty (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa)
Take a look behind the scenes of a recent Future Virology review, entitled: ‘Arboviruses in South Africa, known and unknown’, as we ask author Prof. Mohamed El Zowalaty, Research Professor of Virology and Microbiology, about the challenges facing the field of arboviruses, from climate change to urbanization, both in South Africa and across the world.
What inspired you to write this review?
The increasing global fears of arbovirus infections, specifically Zika and dengue, in addition to other tick-borne diseases specifically in South America, Asia and certain European countries, while in South Africa, little data is available. Besides the current limited arsenal of treatment options including specific antiviral agents, and the limited availability of safe and effective vaccines are among the factors that inspired me to develop the idea of the review.
What are the main challenges facing South Africa with emerging and re-emerging arboviruses?
As is the case with the majority of arboviral diseases in Africa, there is paucity of active, programmed syndromic and vector surveillance, and monitoring programs in South Africa. Implementing active surveillance efforts will provide an accurate, timeous and ongoing overview of the status and dynamics of arboviruses, and possible associated arboviral diseases, in animals and humans. The lack of active surveillance programs results in limited data with which to inform the public and veterinary health services about the burden of arboviral diseases in the country.
Another challenge is the limited capacity and infrastructure to conduct research on arboviral agents some of these agents require specific containment levels. Furthermore, there are no clear policies or practice guidelines for routine or strategic livestock vaccinations as preventive or mitigating strategies against potential arboviral diseases, such as Rift Valley fever and West Nile viruses.
How will changes in climate affect the worldwide risk of arboviral infection?
It is established that climate changes play an important role in spreading of infectious diseases in unexpected regions. There is a complex interplay between climate changes and infectious diseases. Climate changes will lead to the increased risks of introducing zoonoses and arboviruses into different geographic regions. Despite ongoing research in this area and its connectedness to infectious diseases, I believe that it is beyond the human capability to foresee the exact events of climate changes and their effects on mankind and the planet. Hurricanes, tornado, increased earth temperature (global warming) and other unseen climatic events are beyond human control. What mankind can do is to mitigate the consequences when they occur and react to it.
How will urbanization affect the worldwide risk of arboviral infection?
Likewise, as previously mentioned in the case of climate changes and infectious diseases, urbanization is one of the factors that effects arboviral diseases through vectors (mosquitoes and ticks) as well as other types of zoonotic infections. The shift of human activities from rural to urban areas play a complex role in communicable diseases emergence including arboviral diseases, which therefore require vigilance of those events.
What is being done/needs to be done to ensure increased prevention of infection?
Policy implementation, increased public awareness, concerted global efforts and one health interdisciplinary research are required for improved human health and will help prevent serious outcomes due to arboviral diseases.
What work are you hoping to do/ what do you think needs to be done in this area?
Increased research in drug discovery, screening for selective active compounds to target arboviruses as well as vaccines research.
Further research in area of vectors-host-virus relationships is required as well.
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