Sebeta, Ethiopia

WOAH wraps up the twinning project on rabies between South Africa and Ethiopia.


In early 2021, WOAH supported a new laboratory twinning project, an initiative that linked the WOAH Reference Laboratory for rabies at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research (OVR) Institute in Pretoria, South Africa (parent laboratory) to the National Animal Health Diagnosis and Investigation Center (NAHDIC) in Sebeta, Ethiopia (candidate laboratory) for 2 years. Before this, WOAH had engaged in a similar agreement between OVR and the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) in Vom, Nigeria in 2012.

In this particular project, capacity building aimed at NAHDIC (meanwhile renamed to Animal Health Institute or AHI) to focus on the transfer of skills on the recommended diagnostic tools and techniques, such as the direct fluorescent antibody test (FAT), the direct rapid immunohistochemical test (dRIT), rabies tissue culture infection test and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, no personnel exchange (from both the candidate and the parent laboratory) was permitted throughout the project’s first year. A no-cost extension was granted until 31 December 2023.

Project objectives

  1. To increase capacity and scientific knowledge at NAHDIC (now AHI) to improve its diagnostic and research capacity on lyssavirus and rabies, as well as its sustainability, with the ultimate goal of this facility applying for and becoming an established WOAH Reference Laboratory for Rabies.
  2. To increase confidence and quality outputs when performing various laboratory diagnostic techniques by exchanging samples for inter-laboratory comparisons
  3. To collate the data generated and assist with trend analyses as well as spatial and temporal analysis of surveillance data (using Access and GIS programs) to identify potential hot spots of the disease for disease control.
  4. Bench training on actual rabies testing involving the direct fluorescent antibody test (DFA), direct rapid immunohistochemical test (dRIT), and Polymerase chain reaction was done at ARC-OVI and AHI.
  5.  Procure materials for training at both the candidate and parent laboratories.

Most of the objectives were met, for instance: four AHI scientists, Drs Belaineh Redeat, Dereje Shegu, Bayeta Senbata, and Demessa Negessu, flew to Onderstepoort Veterinary Research (South Africa) for training before becoming certified to perform the direct FAT. This specific training was held from 27 February to 17 March 2023.

As a result, AHI was declared ready to begin rabies testing with the direct fluorescent antibody test (dFAT) during a follow-up visit by OVR experts from 2 October 2 to 13 October 2023. During the review period, Ms Debrah Mohale, the technician involved in this project and in charge of procurement, obtained several materials for the dFAT, dRIT, RTCIT, and PCR. The materials have been transported to the candidate laboratory.

Opening meeting during a visit by the ARC-OVI to the AHI

Ms Mohale observing a trainee performing FAT at AHI.

Ms Mohale observing a trainee performing FAT at AHI.

D Shegu carrying out the DFAT under the observation of Ms Mohale at ARC-OVR.

A visit to the rabies laboratory with Director of AHI Dr Tesfaye

The personnel at the rabies laboratory (AHI) are now qualified to perform the primary and gold standard dFAT for suspected rabies cases in Ethiopia. A few key recommendations advised that:

  1. Critical equipment such as incubator (37oC), fluorescent microscope, and/or biosafety cabinets be serviced or calibrated regularly as underpinned by the QMS. Therefore, maintenance of this equipment is paramount to the success and execution of the dFAT at AHI.
  2. The equipment should be included in the existing calibration schedule as per the quality management system (QMS) of the AHI.
  3. Confirmatory tests such as RT-PCR or dRIT must be validated and implemented in the rabies laboratory and these can be used as back-up test(s) in the diagnosis of rabies.
  4. The rabies laboratory and bench tops need to be refurbished to make them easy to clean and disinfect.

Conclusion and next steps

Personnel from the AHI’s Rabies Laboratory are technically qualified to test for rabies using conventional and molecular techniques, as specified in the WOAH guidelines. Given this backdrop, the AHI is now considered ready to begin rabies testing, as evidenced by their technical performance at the last visit in January 2024.  The AHI has identified a new laboratory/facility for rabies testing, and all necessary equipment is available and operating.

All the pictures (c) communication (AHI) 2023 and 2024

Download the report, produced by the AHI, Sebeta, Ethiopia

AHI Ethiopia

Twinning project report

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More information

Onderstepoort, South Africa

OIE approves a new twinning agreement on rabies between South Africa and Ethiopia

January 04, 2021
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