Capacity building often initiates and catalyzes further countrywide efforts to implement national rabies control strategies. With the support and supervision of WOAH and under the leadership of two reference laboratories for rabies, the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI), South Africa and the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI), Germany, the establishment of two Southern African core cells of a future Southern African Rabies Laboratories Network has been launched recently. While in a first phase, FLI together with its partner lab in Namibia will form one “western” core cell by interacting with Angola, Botswana and Zambia , OVI will form the second “eastern” core cell by reaching out to Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique. In a second stage, both nuclei are merged into a larger network for rabies in southern Africa.
Stronger compliance by national reference laboratories with WOAH and WHO standards is essential for improving animal health, animal welfare, and veterinary public health at the national, regional and international level. Therefore, the establishment of such a network is timely and highly relevant if human dog-mediated rabies shall be eliminated by 2030 by taking European experience into account. This stepwise approach will provide the foundation for harmonization and standardization of rabies routine diagnostics across southern Africa by implementing WOAH and WHO standards and strengthen inter-laboratory and international cooperation in the SADC region.