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Foot-and-mouth disease in South Africa: current problems and proposed solutions

Current author:
Gavin R Thomson


South Africa has suffered repeated crises caused by foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks over the last 20 years; perhaps more so than for any other Southern African country, with the exception of Zimbabwe. Most recently, spread of FMD into western parts of Limpopo Province resulted in South Africa losing international recognition of its FMD-free zone for the third time since 2000. Such events have devastating economic consequences for livestock producers and associated industries. Effective corrective action is, therefore, necessary.

Many factors have contributed to the present FMD situation, including the general decline in the country’s economic performance. More specifically, there are technological, financial, logistical and disease-specific factors that collectively contributed to the current situation. This document aims to identify those factors and, building on that, propose a series of short- to medium-term corrective actions (a five-year horizon). A concern is that, while corrective actions are relatively easy to identify, the necessary resources for implementation may be difficult to procure in the present economic climate. That makes prioritisation essential, i.e. to enable critical issues to be addressed according to priority.

A complicating factor in the management of South Africa’s FMD problem is that the type of FMD that occurs in the southern parts of Southern Africa differs from that which occurs in most of the rest of the world. The SAT (acronym for ‘South African Territories’) serotype viruses differ in a number of important respects from the so-called ‘Eurasian’ serotype viruses, especially regarding their relationship with wildlife. A difficulty is that international standards, recommendations and norms related to management of FMD are based on the characteristics of the Eurasian serotypes. This confounds the management of FMD in Southern Africa because the standards and norms are, in some respects, inappropriate for the SAT serotypes.

With the above as a background, it is proposed that the major focus in future be based on:

  1. Improved management of SAT serotype FMD, focused primarily on the north-eastern part of the erstwhile FMD-free zone, i.e. involving the national borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well as those of the protection zones adjacent or near to the Kruger National Park, including the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA).
  2. More effective and rapid resolution of FMD events and outbreaks when they occur, based on the realities of SAT serotype FMD formulated on the basis of clear and transparent contingency planning.
  3. Formulation of more effective sanitary (animal disease and food safety) risk management to widen access to markets for commodities and products derived from cloven-hoofed livestock located in areas that are not recognised internationally as free from FMD.

The latter activity needs to be applied in two phases: (1) for the whole country until a new FMD-free zone is approved by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), followed by (2) improved arrangements for trading animal commodities produced in the protection zones (i.e. areas that are not part of South Africa’s FMD-free zone).

Underlying all of the above are two technical imperatives:

  1. Improved performance of the current vaccination programmes against FMD in the protection zones, which requires both more effective vaccine and improvement in the system of vaccine application.
  2. Deployment of rapid, sensitive and specific testing systems to facilitate effective FMD surveillance. It is vital to develop a better FMD surveillance system than is currently in place because SAT serotype FMD often causes mild disease or sub-clinical infection that cannot be detected by physical inspection alone. More effective surveillance will be dependent on the deployment of rapid (as close to real-time as possible) testing to detect infection caused by SAT serotype viruses, i.e. similar to tests being used against the current global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

List of abreviations and acronyms

AfCFTA – African Continental Free Trade Area
AHEAD – Animal & Human Health for the Environment and Development
ARC – Agricultural Research Council
ARC-OVR – Agricultural Research Council-Onderstepoort Veterinary Research
BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy
CBT – commodity-based trade
CCPs – critical control points
COVID-19 – coronavirus disease
DAFF – Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (previous departmental name for DALRRD)
DAH – Directorate of Animal Health
DALRRD – Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development
DIVA –differentiating infected from vaccinated animals
EC – European Commission
EU – European Union
FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FMD – foot-and-mouth disease
FMDV – foot-and-mouth disease virus
GARP – Great African Rinderpest Pandemic
GL – Great Limpopo
GLTFCA – Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area
GVO – government veterinary office
HACCP – hazard analysis critical control point
KNP – Kruger National Park
KZ – Kavango-Zambezi
KZTFCA – Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area
LITS – livestock information and traceability system
OIE ...

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