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Combating epizootic diseases* in Africa:
Reorganisation of Veterinary Services

The reorganisation of African Veterinary Services was at the centre of discussions during the 13th Conference of the Regional Commission of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) for Africa, between 26 and 29 January 1999, in Dakar (Senegal).

The objective of the heads of African Veterinary Services is to draw up a more effective strategy for combating the major animal diseases which continue to affect the region, some of which are transmissible to humans (such as Rift Valley Fever).

The animal health situation on the African continent remains a source of concern.

In certain zones, serious diseases such as contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, African swine fever, African horse sickness, foot and mouth disease and trypanosomiasis continue to rage.

Not only do these diseases considerably slow down the development of livestock production on the African continent and hence exports, some of them even represent a threat to human health.

Rift Valley fever, a threat hanging over Africa

Rift Valley Fever, which affects both animals and humans, represents a threat to Africa.

Last year, from the end of October 1997 until January 1998, torrential rains, associated with El Niño, fell on certain territories in the region, resulting in the severest flooding in the Horn of Africa since 1961. Insects, a carrier of the causal virus, proliferated.

In December 1997, large-scale losses of livestock, associated with the presence of the Rift Valley fever virus in the affected zones, were reported (70 per cent in sheep and goats, 20 to 30 per cent in cattle and camelidae). For public health reasons, an embargo on imports of livestock from certain countries is still in place.

Vaccination of animals and immediate notification measures in the event of a further infestation of insects should reduce the losses associated with the disease and re-establish traditional trade flows.

The fight against African swine fever is given priority

Another very serious animal disease, but not transmissible to humans, has erupted in West Africa: African swine fever. The disease is enzootic in certain countries of central Africa and cases have been reported recently in Togo, Benin and Nigeria, as well as in two Cape Verde islands.

African swine fever is also present in certain eastern and southern African countries, in particular Mozambique, where the virus has established a cycle involving the Ornithodorus tick and wart hogs. Madagascar has recently been affected.

On the other hand, the disease has been eradicated in Côte d'Ivoire where it emerged in 1996.

The FAO and the OIE are issuing recommendations: border surveillance, early slaughter and disinfection of premises which should limit the spread of the epidemic. If these recommendations are not implemented, there is a danger that outbreaks of the disease could affect very large areas of the region.

Encouraging results in the fight against rinderpest

Although the situation concerning epizootics has not improved for all diseases in Africa, significant progress has been made in the fight against rinderpest, which was not officially reported in Africa in 1998. This effort, organised and supported by international organisations, in particular the OAU/IBAR, which benefited from funding from the European Union, formed part of the Pan-African Campaign against the disease.

Ensuring the long-term viability of Veterinary Services in Africa

These threats to animal and human health are all the more worrying because they are emerging at a time when many Veterinary Services are facing resource problems, largely associated with the structural adjustment programmes imposed because of their economic situation. These difficulties were widely debated at the Dakar Conference and solutions were proposed for a better definition of the actions of the Veterinary Services. These solutions include: an extension to the scope of the health mandate, the introduction of a cost recovery policy, the establishment of working relations and collaboration with the private sector in the field of epidemiological surveillance, training and public information, and the development of a legislative framework allowing the installation and operation of private veterinary practices. These decisions should ensure the continuing existence of a quality public service, without adversely affecting progress on privatisation or the inter-sectorial cooperation observed in the field of livestock production.

Although the climatic and socio-economic conditions in Africa continue to make the region the most vulnerable in terms of animal health, this 13th Conference of the OIE Regional Commission for Africa in Dakar has once again demonstrated that cooperation between African countries and the solidarity of other countries can reduce to a minimum the harmful effects of animal diseases with their direct and indirect consequences on human health.

The recommendation put forward by the Conference to establish a Regional Representation of the OIE for Africa in Bamako (Mali) could make a significant contribution to reinforcing such cooperation and solidarity.

PARIS, 29 January 1999

Contact : Maria Zampaglione

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