Sunday, August 14, 2022

Strategy to regain South Africa’s FMD-free status

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

South Africa still has a long way to go before it can regain its foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) free status, after the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) revoked the country’s disease-free status in 2019.

Several countries banned the importation of livestock products from South Africa shortly thereafter, resulting in a sizable loss of income for the local livestock industry. South Africa has, however, systematically resumed product exports to various countries, thanks to mutual trade agreements that have been successfully concluded by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

The process to regain disease-free status

Dr Baptiste (Baty) Dungu, veterinarian and vaccine specialist at Afrivet and a member of the OIE’s scientific commission, says a protracted process is involved when a country wants to regain its FMD-free status. It can take a minimum of two years, as some clearly defined steps must be followed. Information must be submitted to and approved by the OIE’s various technical committees, as well as the General Assembly.

Dr Baty Dungu, veterinarian and vaccine specialist, was one of the speakers at a recent public information session at Nampo Park regarding foot-and-mouth disease.

Since the outbreak of this highly contagious viral disease in the Vhembe district of Limpopo in February 2019, it has made its way to several other provinces in the country. Dr Dungu says that given the new outbreaks in formerly FMD disease-free regions in South Africa, it will be difficult to put in place mechanisms such as compartmentalisation which will separate infected zones from disease-free zones.

Compartmentalisation allows for trade in FMD-free zones to continue. Yet, he says, this is only an option once the disease has been brought under control. Only once this is accomplished will South Africa be in a position where the OIA can reconsider the country’s disease-free status.

According to Dr Dungu, it is a complex but feasible process to regain one’s FMD-free status. One of the starting points for South Africa is the close co-operation between the government’s veterinary services and the livestock industry. Certain challenges need to be addressed, including thorough co-ordination between the provincial and national veterinary services, he says.

Prevent FMD from spreading

He says South Africa now needs to focus on stopping the spread of the disease, and for this to be successful it is necessary for the entire value chain to fully co-operate. The longer FMD continues to spread, the greater the risk that the trust South Africa’s trading partners have in our country will be violated.

The Animal Diseases Act: Foot-and-mouth disease

“Nobody would want to trade with South Africa if FMD outbreaks cannot be controlled.” At the same time, the spread of this disease complicates South Africa’s position with the OIA.

Dr Dungu believes the existing surveillance system, in which affected areas are intensively surveyed, needs to be sharpened. The viral disease must be clearly identified and problem areas pinpointed, after which the animals kept in those areas must be properly monitored and tested. Measures such as movement control, biosecurity regulations and vaccination can then be put in place.

Vaccination as a control measure

Dr Dungu says vaccination is an essential tool in limiting FMD and regaining South Africa’s disease-free status. Vaccinations must, however, be performed in a specific manner as the vaccines administered, and the conditions under which they are administered, differ.

Animals need to be vaccinated preventively and not for treatment purposes. Vaccines cannot simply be administered in a disease-free zone as this might lead to confusion. Animals will test positive once they are vaccinated.

Dr Dungu says vaccination must be done strategically, as is the case in KwaZulu-Natal where a vaccination programme was launched a few months ago in the area affected by FMD, in order to stop its spread. – Christal-Lize Muller, Veeplaas

For more information, contact Dr Baty Dungu on 012 817 9060 or baty.dungu@afrivet.co.za.

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