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New threats to animal health and public health in Africa

The animal disease situation throughout the African continent is giving cause for concern. Serious epizootic diseases such as rinderpest, African horse sickness, African swine fever, foot and mouth disease, trypanosomoses and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, which are under control in other regions of the world, continue to circulate in Africa. This severely penalises livestock production and in many instances prevents numerous African countries from exporting to the markets of Europe, Asia or the Middle East.

The 12th Conference Regional Commission of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) for Africa was held in Pretoria (South Africa), from 28 to 31 January 1997, and brought together most of the Heads of the African Veterinary Services to confer, once more, on these problems.

The most serious problem currently facing the continent appears to be the spread of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP).

CBPP is a highly contagious disease which not only kills large numbers of animals but also reduces their fertility and milk, meat and manure production. It can take several months for the disease to be detected after infected animals have entered an area.

Diagnosis of the disease is based mainly on serology and the most effective method of prevention is by intensive surveillance, the establishment of 'buffer zones' separated by sanitary fences, or by quarantine. Vaccination is very useful in preventing CBPP, if used correctly and consistently. In some rare instances, countries not wishing to have to contend with the presence of the disease do not use this method but systematically eliminate all sick and in-contact animals. This was the decision recently taken by Botswana (nearly 320,000 cattle slaughtered).

In 1970, CBPP was largely confined to the Horn of Africa, some parts of the West African Sahel and Angola. Since then, the disease has spread back into Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. From Angola, it spread again to the north of Namibia and then into Botswana.

The Conference recommended that contagious bovine pleuropneumonia surveillance in Africa be strengthened, especially at borders, and that a coordinated control plan be implemented in each country, based on vaccination or slaughter, depending upon available resources.

This recommendation is fully justified in view of the great success achieved in Africa since the early 1980s in the field of rinderpest control, coordinated by the Organization of African Unity/Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (OAU/IBAR) with the assistance of the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the OIE.

Another subject discussed at length in Pretoria is the role of veterinarians in the protection of public health in Africa.

To a greater extent on this continent than elsewhere, the increasing rate of population growth, rural-urban migration, rapid urbanisation, armed conflicts, etc. are leading to increased risks of the spread of zoonoses: brucellosis, echinococcosis, anthrax, tuberculosis, rabies, salmonellosis, etc. In some cases, viruses present in domestic animals or wildlife have reappeared (Ebola, Crimean-Congo, Rift Valley fever) and constitute a threat to public health.

The veterinarians responsible for the control of these zoonoses, and for verifying the hygiene of food of animal origin, are thus finding their responsibilities increased, whereas the financial and human resources placed at their disposal are often being reduced as a result of budgetary constraints.

Only a concerted effort of organisation between African countries, assisted by other countries from around the world, will allow them to meet this challenge. This is particularly true given the fact that health problems in other regions of the world can have direct or indirect implications for public health and animal production in Africa. This is currently the case with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). African countries fear the introduction of the disease through European products. They would like to be recognised as free from BSE, given the natural conditions under which their livestock is extensively produced.

The Pretoria Conference thus recommended the strengthening of veterinary public health actions in the Member Countries, in particular by setting up a specialised unit in each country, by strengthening the OIE, FAO and World Health Organization (WHO) networks of Reference Laboratories, and by setting up international programmes for zoonosis control.

OIE, the world organisation for animal health, was created in 1924 and has its headquarters in Paris. It brings together 144 countries, whose Delegates form an 'International Committee', and is supported by the work of four Specialist Commissions and five Regional Commissions, including the Regional Commission for Africa. The OIE's mission is to inform and advise the Veterinary Services of its Member Countries in order to contribute to the eradication of those animal diseases most dangerous for animals or humans, and to determine the health standards for international trade.

 

Contact : Maria Zampaglione

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