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Overcoming The Hurdle of Foot-and-Mouth Disease

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Uganda has a great potential of earning foreign exchange from exporting beef. The country’s Uganda’s beef is on high demanded in the global market because of its low cholesterol and fat content. In addition, the global increase in population has further increased the demand for beef both locally and globally.

However, Uganda is not taking advantage of these market opportunities. One of the main reasons limiting access to foreign lucrative markets is the issue of transboundary diseases (TBDs), and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in particular. The frequent occurrences of FMD outbreaks threaten the livestock industry and livestock product exports. The cost of FMD is two-fold: death of animals and low milk production in infected animals; and loss of export trade due to rejection of products from a disease-infected country.

FMD is a global concern in the Office of international animal health (OIE) which requires that countries with FMD outbreaks take extreme control measures such as routine vaccination campaigns and restricting animal movements. In Uganda, the usual practices in case of an outbreak include vaccination, isolation and imposing cattle movement bans.

However, these practices have not been effective in eradicating FMD for a number of reasons: the inefficient and inadequate veterinary extension system, insufficient and inappropriate vaccines and the difficulty of controlling animal movements across national, borders, district and regional boundaries; and the informal trade of livestock within and between neighboring countries.

The veterinary work force is not sufficient to carry out comprehensive vaccination programs. Due to insufficiency, vaccination is only done when there are outbreaks and done only in infected areas and in most cases, not the whole herd. Research shows that only 10.3 % of the cattle within districts that reported FMD outbreak are vaccinated.

The recommended practice would be to launch a vaccination programme countrywide to cover at least 90% of the national herd and this should be done twice and before the outbreak but this is too costly for Uganda. My opinion is that the recent ban of all FMD vaccines on the Ugandan market and the subsequent ordering of fresh FMD vaccines directly from manufacturers may not solve the problem given the aforementioned limitations. Worth noting also is that even if the vaccines are procured and vaccination programs are effectively executed, it does not guarantee acceptance of beef products in the global market.

The Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) recommends disease-free zones (DFZs) as a strategy that can be used by FMD-infected countries to produce livestock products that meet international standards. DFZs are sub-units demarcated by government on the basis of the level of cattle disease incidence with various disease control measures being applied in the different subunits. With disease zoning, it is possible to secure a disease-free area in an otherwise infected country.

The OIE recognizes parts of a country (rather than the country) as disease-free and products from those parts are considered safe. An additional advantage of DFZs is that they all serve to fulfil the WTO rules-of-origin or geographical labelling requirements by informing consumers of the production methods and sites in order to mitigate uncertainties on product quality and safety.

The rationale for acceptance of livestock products from a DFZ is that there are strict and intensive disease surveillance programs within the zone(s). Within a DFZ, it is mandatory for all livestock keepers to comply with disease prevention/control measures like controlled grazing; no movement of animals to or from a DFZ during an outbreak; regular disease surveillance and prompt reporting of outbreaks; compulsory vaccination of all cattle twice a year; slaughter and disposal of all infected cattle in case of an outbreak; registration and identification of cattle to enhance traceability. These measures cannot be effectively implemented in the whole country.

In conclusion, complete eradication of FMD is impossible due to various technical, financial and logistical reasons. In addition, successful implementation of vaccination programs cannot guarantee acceptability of Uganda’s livestock products. I therefore recommend establishment of disease-free zones and let all the vaccination programs be executed within the zones. The DFZ strategy has been successfully used in other beef exporting countries including Botswana, Namibia and Brazil.

I, therefore, advise the Government to pick a leaf from these countries.

Authored by Medard Kakuru

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