The WAVE The West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) Project's bi-monthy newsletter


Hello Friends,

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since our last newsletter!

WAVE was invited to attend the latest annual Grand Challenges Meeting in Berlin by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And what a meeting it was! We were privileged to take part in this forum of the world’s most important scientific leaders, who had gathered to share cutting-edge research and find solutions for ending poverty and disease.

Dr. Angela Eni, a WAVE country team leader from Covenant University in Nigeria, was a spotlight speaker at this meeting. She presented the program’s work to a captivated audience.

Dr. Justin Pita, WAVE’s Executive Director, also had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Bill Gates to explain the impact of our work and how our strategy is strengthened by local leadership.

In late November, all WAVE country team leaders mobilized their respective governments, relevant NGOs, and research centers by organizing national workshops to draft response action plans for the fight against the threat of cassava viral diseases. These plans, endorsed by the Ministers of Agriculture, will be implemented by Emergency Operations Centers in all WAVE countries and beyond.

As you will notice in this second issue of The WAVE, it has been a busy few months since our Cotonou Conference in June, where we pleaded for more action from our African governments. We are happy progress has been made. There’s still a lot to do, but we want to take a moment to share our achievements with you.

We are excited at the prospect of 2019 and look forward to taking on more challenges and reaching new milestones in the fight against cassava viral diseases and food insecurity. We know this cannot be achieved without the united efforts of all stakeholders and our wish for this new year is for more collaboration.

We wish you and your loved ones a happy and exciting New Year!

Little girl showing cassava tubers in a village market in Côte d'Ivoire

WAVE’s Angela Eni a spotlight speaker at the 2018 Grand Challenges Meeting in Berlin

The West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) project was centre stage at the recently concluded Grand Challenges Meeting in Berlin, Germany. This annual meeting hosts some of the world’s greatest minds, who share their work with the rest of the scientific community. Dr. Angela Eni, WAVE-Covenant University team leader, was invited to give a plenary spotlight talk. Key plenary session speakers at the 2018 Grand Challenges Meeting were Bill Gates, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and Director General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, among other notable persons.

Representing the crops research group, Angela gave a talk on the viral disease threats to one of Africa’s most important food crops, cassava. She opened by showing how cassava is particularly suited to meeting dietary needs in Africa, as it is affordable, easy to grow, and can be processed into a variety of foods. She went on to explain that cassava production is currently threatened by cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and other viral diseases, such as cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), noting that CBSD is endemic to East Africa and is spreading westward. She emphasized that a concerted effort was needed to forestall the devastating effects that could ensue. She closed by highlighting some of the achievements of the WAVE project in controlling cassava viral diseases through disease mapping, stakeholder involvement, and farmer education.

Following the talk, Angela received positive feedback from many participants, who admitted that they had not been aware of the challenges of cassava farming, lauding the efforts of the project.

Angela Eni, WAVE's team leader in Nigeria at Covenant University giving a talk at the Grand Challenges Meetings in Berlin

My meeting with Bill Gates

When Kathy Khan, WAVE’s senior program officer, told me that I was among the few chosen to meet Bill Gates at the latest annual Grand Challenges Meeting, I was excited. But above all, I was anxious. I knew this was going to be one of those once in a lifetime moments (we all know how easy it is to meet Bill Gates!). I knew I had to seize the opportunity to explain the importance of WAVE’s work and the need for more support and visibility for our cause. I needed to make sure the message was clearly conveyed.

So, there we were, Chris Gilligan (our partner from Cambridge University) and I, along with Kathy, Christina Owen and Niranjan Bose from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, waiting in a beautiful meeting room with neat refined decoration. My mind was clearly not on enjoying my surroundings, but rather on finding the right words to deliver my message.

Bill Gates arrived, with the courtesy of a great man, a few minutes before the meeting time and greeted us all with a hand shake. After brief introductions, I was given the floor to present an overview of how cassava viruses are spreading westwards from East and Central Africa, and how the WAVE project is helping to tackle the problem. Then, Chris Gilligan described the epidemiological models on which he and his team work and that are currently being applied to predicting the spread of cassava brown streak disease to West Africa.

From left to right: Bill Gates (BMGF), Justin Pita (WAVE) and Chris Gilligan (Cambridge University)

During this very interactive presentation, we highlighted the growing threat that cassava viral diseases pose to food security in Africa and the need for a coordinated fight against them. Giving the example of successful partnerships with local leaders in the fight to eradicate polio worldwide, Bill Gates supported WAVE’s strategy in engaging with local and traditional rulers to create awareness of the disease threat. He thanked us all “for grappling with the complexities of crop disease threats”.

There wasn’t a photographer present in the room, so Kristina Owen had agreed to immortalize the moment. Captivated by the engaging discussions, she hadn’t taken a single picture and our time was almost up. I needed my picture with Bill Gates! Needless to say, I was getting distracted and nervous, but Kristina was oblivious. I continuously tried to make eye contact with her until she finally saw my plea. She snapped a picture with her phone, thus allowing me to take a deep breath and focus anew. Kathy followed by kindly asking Bill Gates if she could take a picture of him with me before he stepped out. He agreed with a smile.

Justin Pita, WAVE’s Executive Director

Justin Pita and Bill Gates

West and Central Africa against cassava viral disease: Drafting national response plans

The Cotonou International Conference was held in June 2018 and attended by all WAVE country team leaders, government representatives, kings, and traditional leaders of West and Central African countries, as well as representatives of international financial institutions and donors, regional institutions, and research centers. The aim of the conference was to promote awareness of the imminent danger to food security arising from cassava viral diseases.

The Cotonou Conference was a decisive step towards an effective and coordinated regional fight against viral diseases of cassava. For WAVE, the challenge was to cement the commitment made by all stakeholders to take the fight to the next level by adopting a "common response strategy". National workshops were organized to draft country response plans to mitigate the viral disease threats to cassava.

The national workshops took place, from November 21st to December 8th, in all seven WAVE countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo) and in several of the countries expected to join the program in phase 2 (Cameroon, Gabon, Sierra Leone). The meetings included representatives from ministries of agriculture and scientific research, scientists, national experts, and major NGO representatives. Together, and with the support of the international consulting firm, Dalberg, they drafted national response plans that include emergency operations centers.

The importance of implementing these plans was illustrated by the personal commitment of several Ministers, some of them personally directing the meetings in their country. All the country response plans will be endorsed and signed by the Ministers of Agriculture.

Benin's response plan drafting workshop
Burkina Faso's response plan drafting workshop
Cameroon's response plan drafting workshop
Côte d'Ivoire's response plan drafting workshop
DRC's response plan drafting workshop
Gabon's response plan drafting workshop
Ghana's response plan drafting workshop
Nigeria's response plan drafting workshop
Sierra Leone's response plan drafting workshop
Togo's response plan drafting workshop

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Communication and Public Relations officer: Adja Ndiaye


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