African horse sickness cases reportedly rising amid vaccine shortage

African horse sickness (AHS) cases are increasing in Gauteng while vaccines have been unavailable since last year, according to reports. Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), which is responsible for manufacturing the vaccines, has allegedly been without stock for several months.

African horse sickness cases reportedly rising amid vaccine shortage
There are reports that a lack of African horse sickness vaccines has resulted in increased outbreaks thus far this year.
Photo: FW Archive
- Advertisement -

AHS, an infectious but non-contagious insect-borne viral disease, is endemic to Southern Africa. Horses need to be vaccinated between June and October each year to protect them against AHS during the late summer months, which is peak AHS season.

Infections usually start dissipating when the first frost arrives. Symptoms included high fever and a lack of appetite. Infected horses could die within days.

Henry Geldenhuys, president of TLU SA, said the lack of vaccines at OBP was a massive challenge. “It’s not just AHS vaccines that are unavailable; it’s several that are needed for livestock farming. We’ve received many reports of horses that are dying, with one farmer in Bethal, Mpumalanga, losing two horses in a week. The farmers are really struggling and all they can do is sit by and watch their animals die.”

- Advertisement -

The exact extent of AHS cases was yet to be quantified. Adrian Todd, managing director of South African Equine Health and Protocols (SAEHP), explained that outside of the controlled zones for AHS, it was common to have a few cases every year, and it was therefore difficult to establish whether there was an outbreak as such.

“But we have seen an increase in cases this year. Whether it is due to a lack of vaccines is difficult to pin point.”

Todd confirmed that many horse owners were unable to get vaccines last year, when horses needed to be vaccinated.

“We have been struggling for the last two years to get vaccines, but it does appear as if the situation will be rectified in the near future, owning to meetings being held with OBP and the minister of agriculture [Thoko Didiza] earlier this week. Hopefully by the next vaccination season in June, the problem would have been rectified.”

Todd noted that reported AHS cases had not risen to a point where movement of all horses needed to be halted.

OBP had not responded to Farmer’s Weekly’s queries by the time of publishing.

Previous articleHow to provide enough water for your herd
Next articleNatural fertilisers for vegetables
Lindi Botha is an agricultural journalist and communications specialist based in Nelspruit, South Africa. She has spent over a decade reporting on food production and has a special interest in research, new innovations and technology that aid farmers in increasing their margins, while reducing their environmental footprint. She has garnered numerous awards during her career, including The International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Star Prize in 2019, the IFAJ-Alltech International Award for Leadership in Agricultural Journalism in 2020, and several South African awards for her writing.