20th July, 2021
The Veterinary Association of Zambia (VAZ) has noted with grave concern, the persistence and new outbreaks of FMD around the country.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CURRENT FMD SITUATION
The current FMD outbreaks date back to 2018 when Chisamba District reported the first cases of the highly infectious disease. Due to illegal movement of cattle, this outbreak spread to Southern Province, from where it was further spread back to Central, Copperbelt and Northwestern Provinces.
Outbreaks in parts of Eastern Province, namely Vubwi, Lundazi and Chipata District were an extension of outbreaks that investigations by the technical arm of Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, the National Livestock Epidemiological and Information Center-NALEIC, established to have originated from a named neighboring country. Currently we have an in-country spread of the disease that is not slowing down.
Whereas VAZ appreciates that the adverse economic situation occasioned by COVID-19 – starting from early to mid-2020 – has affected the way FMD and indeed other important livestock diseases have been handled, the same cannot be said about the handling of the delicate livestock disease situation in the country between 2018 (first FMD outbreaks) to early 2020. The VAZ rightly attributes the current livestock disease picture in the country to either delayed or insufficient reaction or both. The VAZ is deeply concerned at the way the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock has handled the disease situation, especially the FMD outbreak. In this regard, VAZ appreciates the frustration that livestock farmers continue to express at the Department of Veterinary Services. We will be quick to mention here though, that VAZ is well aware that both delayed and gross underfunding has greatly hampered efforts at curtailing, and in many instances preventing, outbreaks by the Department of Veterinary Services.
Further, mitigation of further spread of infectious livestock diseases has been negatively affected by a skeleton establishment of field officers especially the camp-based Veterinary Assistants (VAs) whose contribution to enforcing the Animal Health Act No. 27 of 2010 of the laws of Zambia, cannot be overemphasized. The VAZ’s long-held position has been that government re-demarcates the currently vast Veterinary Camps and employs more VAs, so as to curb illegal livestock movement, the major driver of spread of not only FMD, but other equally economically important livestock diseases such as the East Coast Fever (ECF) and Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP).
WHERE WE ARE
Resulting from the aforementioned, the VAZ is cognizant of the fact that the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock is still grappling to control outbreaks of FMD in different parts of the country. Currently, FMD is raging in parts of Central, Copperbelt, Southern and more recently Western Provinces. Mitete District in Western Province is the most recent on the long list of FMD contaminated districts.
IMPLICATION OF THE CURRENT FMD STATUS IN THE COUNTRY
Due to the current FMD scenario, VAZ appreciates that, livestock farmers’ fortunes have been severely affected due to the following;
- Movement restrictions that have hampered livestock trade.
- Dairy farmers, especially commercial dairy farmers, who are particularly most affected as FMD leads to a sharp decline of milk production, with most cows not going back to pre-FMD milk production levels post-recovery.
- Small scale livestock farmers whose ability to till the land and transport farm produce to the market and other farm operations who depend on animal draught power have been negatively affected due to their animals losing condition and FDM-induced lameness.
- Loss in livestock and livestock products export potential, occasioned by banning of the same, in line with World Animal Health Organization (OIE) regulations.
- To effectively control FMD at the level of the current spread, approximately $8million will be required to procure, vaccinate including post-vaccination surveillance and monitoring, a coast that could have been avoided had effective active livestock disease surveillance been in place. However, even the $8million expenditure currently needed to halt the spread of FMD and restore normalcy to livestock trade is justified against a backdrop of the contribution of the livestock subsector currently estimated at 6.02% to the country’s GDP. This represents a monetary value of USD 1.51 billion (Centre for Trade Policy and Development Policy Brief, ‘Navigating the Country’s FMD Challenge’. 2019).
SUGGESTED WAYS FORWARD
- In the interim
- It is our considered view that the government should strongly review its livestock disease control policy, especially with regards to Diseases of National Economic Importance, the category under which FMD falls. The VAZ recognizes and appreciates the establishment of the Livestock Diseases Control Fund. We at VAZ note that while this will translate into relatively guaranteed and speedy response to disease outbreak situations, the fund alone falls far short of what is needed to control and more importantly prevent disease occurrence. This fund needs supplementation. The VAZ also appreciates the stop-gap measure to allow the private sector and individual farmers to import FMD vaccines and vaccinate their livestock under strict stewardship of the Department of Veterinary Services. However, only commercial farmers – with the financial ability – will be able to enjoy this facility. The downside of this arrangement is that the traditional farmers under whose custody is about 80% of the national livestock herd will not be able to afford the vaccine under this arrangement due to cost implications. The result of this is that even if the commercial farmers who only own about 20%, vaccinate their livestock, their herds will not be exempted from livestock movement should an outbreak happen as the ban is implemented area wise, not at individual farm level. In the same vein, the FMD status of a country – by OIE – is done region- and country-wide, not at individual farm level. Importation by the government, through the Department of Veterinary Services, of the appropriate vaccine in an appropriate number of doses, still remains the only feasible way of disease control, more so FMD.
Our hope would be that government formalizes a channel through which Public Private Partnerships can be enhanced in order to supplement government efforts and staff who are for the most part overstretched. The VAZ is always open to facilitation of some of these alternative control measures from its large pool of members with varying specialties. Such efforts would not only realize full value of the veterinary profession but also benefit farmers that would be catered for.
- In the face of critical shortage of field staff, the Department of Veterinary Services should by way of engaging both traditional and local government leaderships, strengthen pre-cattle movement screening as well as screening of all other livestock host to the FMD virus, CBPP and ECF causative agents, before such are granted permission to be moved.
- Support the referral laboratory, the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRI) based in Lusaka, in terms of FMD and other infectious diseases’ test kits and associated consumables so as to shorten the tests turnaround time.
- In the medium to long term
- Re-demarcate the currently vast veterinary camps and employ more Veterinary Assistants to reduce the farmer-to-officer ratio to manageable levels.
- Provide effective transport by way of 4 X 4 vehicles for provinces and districts and motorbikes for camp staff for mobility for the much needed surveillance to prevent occurrence of disease outbreaks.
- Consider decentralizing, not only diagnostic services for FMD, but other Diseases of National and Economic Importance (DNEIs) such as CBPP to all provinces and successively to districts.
- Form permanent and government-supported Disease Control Task Forces, much in a similar way as the Department of Fisheries has formed Village Fishery Management Committees (VFMCs).
SUPPORT FROM STAKEHOLDERS
This is crucial. Without the stakeholders buying into any mitigation measures being mooted out by the government, all the measures will be in vain. The major stakeholder in livestock disease control is the farmer, more so the traditional farmers who are the majority owners of the greater proportion of the national livestock herd and who are also difficult to monitor in terms of livestock movement.
Prompt response to disease outbreaks by way of sufficiently funded and staffed Department of Veterinary Services coupled with establishing strong Public Private Partnerships for the control of Diseases of National and Economic Importance are paramount for effective disease control. Even more important is a heightened and sustained active disease surveillance system. Both the former and the latter depend on a strong and agile field services staff establishment alongside a robust laboratory service. The VAZ stands ready at any time to offer practical and sustainable solutions to livestock disease control in the country, noting that without a firm and established disease control framework, livestock development is not tenable.
Dr. Malcolm Chiyoba
Chairperson – The Veterinary Association of Z