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Impact of livestock diseases in Africa

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More than a billion people around the world living under poverty, depend on livestock for their livelihoods. In Africa; this number is estimated at about 300 million people. Animals provide these people with food protein, traction power and manure for crop production. In arid and semi-arid areas of Africa, livestock play a crucial role in food provision. In these regions livestock act as a "bank" for provision of cash derived from sales of their products or of the animals themselves in times of crisis, to raise the funds needed to purchase food and meet other family needs.

When food prices soared during 2008, an unspecified but large number of livestock in these regions were sold to meet food needs and there is now a need to restock which can only be achieved when the impact of animal diseases is reduced as they impact greatly on these social groups.

Few studies are available in Africa to validate the impact of livestock diseases, but estimates at the worldwide level, indicate that average losses due to animal diseases are more than 20%. While there is hardly accurate data on losses attributed to livestock diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, it is believed that this percentage could be higher. Overall economic losses have previously been estimated at US$ 2 billion. Losses due to morbidity as reflected by reduction in growth, lactation, work output and reproduction are probably of the same magnitude.

The impact of animal diseases, either due to overt disease or disease risk, are all likely to be proportionally greater for the poor because they are exposed to more animal disease risk and have less capacity to cope with that risk than those who are better-off. This combination (exposure to risk and lack of capacity) reduces yet further their chances of escaping poverty.

Reducing the incidence of these diseases is therefore one of the priorities to be considered in order to feed the world and reduce poverty. This requires a clear political will, which the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and its partners such as African Union (AU) Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations must encourage at the global level.

Indeed, access to adequate supply of good quality food is not just an agricultural problem but also a public health issue which must be tackled from a global point of view. Below are some facts that support this view:

  • Since 1992, the undernourished population in developing countries has declined by just 3 million from 823 to 820 million.
  • The African Union predicts a USD$2billion annual gap in animal protein requirements by 2030.
  • 70% of people living on an income of less than a USD$1 a day are dependent upon livestock for their income and food security.
  • The rural poor constitute 66% of the population (504m) of the poorest 38 countries in Africa.
  • Livestock keepers are not only found among the rural poor, but also among the poor urban dwellers who keep them to supplement their income and protein needs.
  • 25% of their livestock die yearly because of preventable animal diseases. In some cases this statistic masks the destructive capacity of diseases such as Newcastle Disease, which affects poultry that are most affordable by the poorest, often leading to 100% flock mortality.

For these reasons human and animal health are inextricably linked and should be addressed together for sustainable poverty reduction.

Unfortunately, output from livestock has decreased by 25% partly because of diseases whose prevention is constrained by limited availability of vaccines and poor vaccine distribution systems. This is particularly critical for neglected diseases such as PPR in sheep and goats, CCPP in goats, CBPP in cattle and ND in poultry, which by coincidence have the highest impact among the poor livestock keepers.

Although vaccines for these diseases exist, and are produced by African laboratories, the technology used to produce some of the vaccines is not entirely in conformity with the current global trend. This is further compounded by acutely limited resources and investments that are required to increase their production capacity, distribution and delivery. Quick investments and financial resources are therefore required in order to improve access to quality vaccines. This approach is supported by the World Development Report (2000/2001) which emphasizes on "a change of focus from development that supports the national economy to a direct focus on the ailments of the poor."