cloven-hoofed; outbreak; livestock; disease, Uganda; cattle; sick

OBP silent amidst vaccine shortage

by Suzanne Venter

Little apparently came from Onderstepoort Biological Products’ undertaking to make vaccines available for vector-transmitted diseases. 

By crunch time there was no sign of the vaccine promised in a press release on 10 February and no reaction was given by Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) on the inquiries regarding the amounts or dates when it will be available. 

This is a large cause for concern, especially in the Eastern Cape. “It is the province with the largest amount of cattle in South Africa and we also have the largest number of small livestock units,” says Günther Pretorius, manager of economics and natural resources at Agri Oos-Kaap.

“Diseases like bluetongue and Rift Valley fever especially affect small livestock. Our farmers are currently struggling a lot with these diseases and are suffering severe financial losses. A survey done among 180 of our members indicated that they urgently need 260 000 units of the vaccine for bluetongue, 49 000 for Rift Valley fever, 800 for African horse disease, and 10 000 for brucellosis.”

According to Günther, there have been many attempts from their end to work with the state to find a solution without success. Dr. Danie Odendaal, a Gauteng vet and consultant, says that it is actually too late to administer a vaccine for vector-transmitted diseases. “It should have happened in November and December already before the rainy season arrived and the number of midges increases.”

No stock available 

Dr Carmen Nel, a vet from Vryburg in Northwest, says they have also placed a long list of vaccine orders from OBP, but there just is no stock. “It is especially important to have vaccines now for Rift Valley fever, bluetongue and African horse sickness.

“We have big cattle outbreaks of bluetongue, which leads to ewes (sheep and goats) aborting and farmers suffering huge economic losses. We receive weekly inquiries from farmers for vaccines for African horse sickness, but we cannot help them either. One of our clients lost 18 horses to the disease last year.

“Rift Valley fever outbreaks occur when it rains a lot, and it is also infections for humans. Farmers and workers can die from it or get permanent nerve damage. These are diseases with serious consequences.”

Animal welfare

Marzanne Roets of the National Animal Welfare Forum (NAHF) says they met with the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

“We received reports of severe outbreaks of bluetongue in Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape. African horse sickness is also a big problem. These outbreaks and deaths can be prevented by better vaccine provision. We already alerted the Department and OBP in 2022 of how many vaccines are necessary to protect our national herd.

“Once again, this need was not provided for. The national herd not only face a health crisis but also an animal welfare crisis.”

The NAHF wants to ask the Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee (LWCC) for support and will also take up the matter with the portfolio committee for agriculture, land reform and rural development. 

Marzanne says millions of livestock are being exposed to diseases due to a lack of vaccines from OBP. The economic effect on farmers and livestock owners is a massive problem and is especially devastating for small-scale communal farmers that cannot afford animal losses. 

Millions of vaccines needed

Last year, in collaboration with the NAHF, Dr Odendaal researched vaccine needs in South Africa. The report was also presented to the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

According to this report, disease outbreaks are still the biggest threat to the national herd, and 90% of the diseases are preventable by making the right number of vaccines available at the right times. 

The research determined the vaccine need as follows:

– Brucellosis: 800 000 doses 

– Rift Valley fever: 1,5 million doses

– Bluetongue: 10 million doses

– Tick-transmitted diseases (anaplasmosis, heartwater, African redwater and Asiatic redwater): 100 000 units each

According to Dr Odendaal, this need will increase during a severe outbreak. The private vaccine producer Design Biologix’s brucellosis vaccines, Bru-Tect S19 for cattle and Bru-Tect Rev1 for sheep, is available countrywide as of 6 March. 

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