A deadly viral disease, which broke out in Tanzania earlier this year, could spread south, posing a mortal threat to more than 50 million sheep and goats in 15 countries.The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) issued the warning following an emergency mission to Tanzania by the agency’s animal health crisis management centre.
According to Dr Dewald Keet, acting director of animal health for the agriculture department, ovine rinderpest, also known as peste des petits ruminants (PPR), is a contagious disease known to affect goats and sheep in parts of west, central and east Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
The FAO considers PPR the most destructive viral disease affecting small ruminant flocks and it can cause mortality of up to 100% in sheep and goats. It doesn’t affect humans, but can cause enormous socio-economic losses.“At the moment we’re not too worried because we believe the chance of the disease reaching South Africa is remote. But we’ll remain alert,” said Dr Keet.
He told Farmer’s Weekly there’s a very effective vaccine for this disease – but as far as he knew it’s not currently available in South Africa because the disease hasn’t posed an immediate threat to livestock in this country.The FAO mission recommended that Tanzania initiate an emergency vaccination programme around the disease-outbreak site in the north of the country and is considering additional vaccination in the area bordering Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
It said it’s also important that the bordering countries immediately step up vigilance and engage in proactive surveillance.If the disease is allowed to spread from Tanzania into the whole of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, it could devastate the livelihoods and food security of millions of small herders and agro-pastoralists, noted the FAO.