Editorial Comment: Zimbabwe needs an animal disease policy

Editorial Comment

ZIMBABWE continues to be hit by recurring outbreaks of foot and mouth disease (FMD), laying bare government’s ineffective government controls in the prevention of the highly contagious and often fatal disease.

The country continues to lose millions in potential revenue as thousands of animals which could have been exported are left to die.

The situation is further exacerbated by the harsh weather conditions, which often necessitate livestock movement as farmers move animals from one area to another in search of pastures.

The disease has been reported throughout most of the country with Beitbridge, through Statutory Instrument 250/2018, being classified as an FMD district, along with Mupfure area in Shamva, Rushinga, Chao Resettlement Area of Mazowe, Matepatepa, Mt Darwin (excluding Chiswiti and Mukumbura), Centenary (excluding Mukumbura), Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe and Mudzi.

Other areas also declared FMD zones are Midlands province, excluding both Gokwe North and South as well as Gweru, Masvingo province, Ndowoyo in Chipinge, Makoni district and Cashel Valley.

Reigning in the disease depends on the effectiveness of livestock movement controls, the efficacy of the Department of Veterinary Services in rapidly detecting and controlling outbreaks at their source through quarantine and vaccination of exposed and in-contact animals as well as repeated vaccination of cattle herds exposed to wildlife.

But potent disease surveillance and early detection of diseases and appropriate actions for the control of disease outbreaks can only be possible with adequate staffing.

Industry insiders say government’s veterinary department is heavily constrained with poor staffing levels of just about 30% of the required doctors and specialised experts.

With poor staffing levels and weak logistical and financial support, the department has very poor coverage across the country.

A legal framework of disease control to changes in farming practices is also required to provide a prompt and effective response to every single suspected case or outbreak of a notifiable infectious livestock disease.

In other countries, where the contribution of the livestock sector is valued, strict controls on movement are in place as well as continued monitoring and surveillance measures.
Government should spearhead the establishment of veterinary laboratories and mobile clinics at cattle sales floors to effectively deal with FMD outbreaks.

Furthermore, we advocate applied research into vaccination and disease control strategies to enable fit-for-purpose approaches to FMD control in the country.

Animal diseases do not only threaten the viability of livestock farming as a business, but also pose a great risk to human health through consumption and physical contact.

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