Keep livestock and people disease free

Dr Mpho Maja, director of animal health at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, recently expressed her concern over animal disease outbreaks in South Africa. This serious problem is not limited to the livestock sector – some of the diseases are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted to people. 

Commercial and communal farmers are affected by various disease outbreaks but the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) does offer assistance, according to Dr Mpho Maja. “There are foot soldiers on the ground – animal health technicians and veterinarians – advising farmers how to manage, prevent and treat disease in their herds [and flocks],” she says. 

Efforts to stop the spread of highly infectious diseases focus on limiting movement and where possible on vaccination campaigns. In some cases, such as the lethal virus that causes African swine fever, there is no vaccine. That means implementing effective biosecurity is the only appropriate measure. 

To stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), DALRRD has restricted animal movement from disease management areas and launched vaccination campaigns in infected areas. Minister of Agriculture Thoko Didiza says the illegal movement of cattle from infected zones to disease-free zones has caused the spread of FMD and urges all farmers to comply with livestock movement restrictions and regulations.

Vaccines against brucellosis, or contagious abortion (CA), are affective and available, yet there are ongoing and increasingly widespread outbreaks of CA, which has a very damaging effect on productivity. 

There is no substitute for a good biosecurity programme on a farm, but closing the herd or flock is sometimes seen as a solution to keeping animals disease-free during outbreaks. Some farmers erect a double fence where they are not certain of the neighbouring farm’s biosecurity, but this is not possible for communal livestock farmers, who must find other ways of keeping their livestock safe.

Dr Maja urges farmers to consider food safety at all times and to observe the correct withdrawal times (for milk and meat) after they have treated animals. 

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