Namibia has begun the training of dogs to sniff out people infected with coronavirus – COVID-19.
Humans infected with the virus are said to have a distinct smell that beagles and German shepherds can detect. With rising cases of COVID-19 infections, Namibia has ventured into using dogs to fish out infected people.
The country joins countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Belgium where dogs are currently being trained to detect COVID-19.
Conrad Brian, a physiology and epidemiology lecturer at the University of Namibia, said the project was initiated two months ago when the institution’s School of Veterinary Medicine realised it could help fight the pandemic in a unique way.
The School collaborated with international veterinary schools in Finland and France and is in the process of training its own dogs, Brain said. He added that the dogs will be deployed where they are most needed.
Colombia is one country which claims to have had success with a similar initiative, while Namibia, Finland and France aspire to achieve the same feat.
Brain says this intitiative is a first for Africa, even though dogs in Namibia have been trained to sniff out weapons and wildlife products with huge success in the past.
The pilot project at Unam is conducted by a team of veterinary doctors, dog trainers, dog handlers and a legal expert at Neudamm near Windhoek.
The school has also reached out to various partners to support the project.
The dogs in training are fed the Hill’s Science Diet; the Pupkewitz Foundation has provided transport cages; and Wilderness Safaris has adapted a vehicle for the project and constructed equipment to be used in the training process.
Anna Marais, associate dean of agriculture and natural resources at Unam, says the Namibian Police and the Ministry of Health and Social Services are in support of the initiative.
She says beagles are the most suitable dog species for the job, due to their extremely well-developed sense of smell.
“Dogs hardly make mistakes. They are not sniffing the virus, but the chemical reaction the patient with the virus produces,” she says.
In the UAE, detector dogs, stationed at various airports, have already started contributing to efforts to control the spread of the virus.
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