Avian Influenza outbreak; South African Veterinary Council on its Strategic Plan

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

27 June 2017
Chairperson: Mr P Maloyi (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

Avian flu presentation [not released; see updated version of 1 August 2017: Highly Pathogenic Avian influenza H5N8: DAFF presentation]
The South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) presented its 2017-2019 strategic plan stating its three major goals for the next two years. One is to drive veterinary professions to address the needs of the people more effectively and inclusively through basic, secondary, and veterinary education levels. Two is to drive an effective communication plan with stakeholders in the veterinary professions to address the animal and health and welfare needs of the people of South Africa. SAVC is developing communication platforms at the government, council, and medial levels. The third goal is to restructure SAVC to be more inclusive of all its members and professions to better the needs of members.

Members raised concerns about how SAVC monitors the Avian Flu outbreak and what process is enforced for reporting cases of the disease. SAVC needs to update the Committee on efforts relating to the Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) vaccines for the outbreak. OBP had said that everything will go according to plan, and SAVC needs to find out if there really are enough vaccines to deal with this outbreak. Members asked how the implementation of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) report is progressing; and if the long delay in receiving the Free State e. coli investigation report from OBP is related to budget cuts.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries presented an update on the current avian influenza outbreak after cases of contagious bird flu were confirmed in Mpumalanga and the Free State. Avian influenza is spread via the faeces and respiratory secretions of infected birds. The epidemic has been decreasing since February. There have been known outbreaks in Asia and Zimbabwe. There have been communications with South African citizens on how to deal with their animals to prevent the spread of the disease. The current plan is to quarantine affected farms, cull affected birds humanely, break and dispose of affected eggs, and increase surveillance and monitoring across the country. The concern is that if could affect food safety, exports and lead to possible job losses.

Members asked DAFF to clarify how it tests for the disease and what the cost for testing is; what are the signs humans show if they get sick from the disease; DAFF needs to clarify the effect the disease will have on exports and the country's GDP; how exactly does DAFF communicate with small farmers about the outbreak; is there a way to test eggs without breaking them; and any indication of how long an outbreak will last.

Meeting report

South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) 2017-2019 Strategic Plan
Dr John Adam, SAVC Finance Committee Chairperson, outlined the strategic goals of the SAVC. The first strategic goal is to drive veterinary professions to address the needs of the people more effectively and inclusively. SAVC plans to do this by developing educational material for children and to lobby to develop veterinary services as a sought after profession. At the higher education level, SAVC wants to go through a process of re-curriculation so students can cope with veterinary studies. It wants to promote the different types of jobs veterinarian studies has. At the veterinary professions level, they need to continue a positive relationship with DAFF, collaborate with the Animal Health Forum (AHF) to change how the profession thinks, educate the public on the profession, and allocate funding to training and for jobs.

The second strategic goal is to drive an effective communication plan with all stakeholders so as to position the veterinary profession as the preferred go to source to address the animal and health and welfare needs of the people of South Africa. Stakeholders that need to be included are: AHF, involved industries, and animal owners. SAVC needs to develop an urgent communication plan with platforms, structures, and media communications. There needs to be communication at a government, council, and a media level.

The third goal is to restructure SAVC to be more inclusive of all the members and professions and better serve the needs of the members. The restructuring will maintain instructional knowledge and expertise of the Council by finding a rotational replacement of council members and maintaining high standards of the staff. SAVC will revise the mandate of the council and investigate its proportional representation.

Ms A Steyn (DA) asked if the Council has found an increase in the outbreak of diseases. When diseases break out, does someone have to report it to a veterinarian? How is this enforced? Is the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) monitoring for outbreaks? The Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) efforts regarding vaccines need to be made available. Is SAVC satisfied with OBP vaccines? Are there plans in place to increase the interest of students in applying to veterinary school? There was a discussion last year to increase the number of students applying to veterinary school. How is the implementation of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) report going? There is a vaccination for bird flu, are veterinarians involved in testing for bird flu?

Mr N Capa (ANC) asked how SAVC is involved in efforts to stop the current bird flu outbreak. On lobbying, are there any serious challenges that need attention in the Council?

Dr Adam replied that in South Africa there are scheduled diseases, which are controlled. Meaning, that if there is an outbreak of a scheduled disease, animal health safety and eventually food safety will be affected. These diseases are controlled by statute. If an animal gets a scheduled disease, there is a reporting process that the animal owners must go through and then they must work with the Department. Private veterinarians also must take a role in combating these diseases; it cannot just be a governmental role. Diseases do not know provincial boundaries, they spread and at the moment veterinary decisions are made within the provinces. There needs to be a national coordination on disease; DAFF agrees and the problem is being addressed. The diseases are never totally under control, but they are managed. The latest avian flu was brought into South Africa by wild birds flying from Zimbabwe. They cannot stop the migration of animals, but as professionals they can be vigilant.

Dr Adam said OBP vaccines need to be given a chance to prove they are working properly. SAVC has previously worked with OBP in the past and they responded nicely and sorted things out efficiently. OBP needs about six months to a year to work out their structure. The Community Veterinary Services (CCS) is in a similar situation; it is a new system that should be used and it should be used more to reach rural areas. This will take money and time, but things are already getting better. CCS needs to put better facilities in rural areas for vets to work in. Increasing the number of students who study veterinary science is difficult because veterinary science is one of the most expensive faculties to establish. There are so few students and they end up getting little exposure to practical experience. One university in South Africa increased to 150 students, but there should be 200-300 students graduating per year to meet the needs of the country. Avian flu requires poultry specialists. It is difficult to control an outbreak of a disease without the right manpower. Things have, however, been improved on. There needs to be another veterinarian facility closer to rural areas.

Dr Adam replied that SAVC does not have any serious challenges to report. DAFF works with SAVC well and improves areas that the Council recommends. The only thing SAVC feels strongly about is that DAFF and veterinarians should have control over veterinary medicines.

Mr Bothle Modisane, DAFF Chief Director: Animal Production and Health, said the Minister can declare a disease, scheduled or not, as a priority. The Animal Health Forum (AHF) is for industry, private and state veterinarians and it has been working very well. It educates the veterinarians on protocols for different diseases. The transfer of avian influenza can be watched through farmers and what goes in and out of their production systems. Throughout the world, there is an increase in trade of plants, food and the migration of people. DAFF took up the matter of the e.coli outbreak in Free State with OBP, and it has yet to receive feedback on the outcome of their investigation. The OIE developed the Performance of Veterinary Services report, an animal disease management plan, and a veterinary strategy. It also developed multiple pillars. One pillar is to improve the management of disease control through the AHF. SAVC, the South African Veterinary Association, and other organisations have agreed on a new strategy to take control. This strategy will be used as a model to work with other diseases. Another pillar is to implement a South African animal identification policy. It will help South Africa to be in a position to address antimicrobial resistance and the use of chemicals in food producing animals. This will also kick start the export of more animal products and also improve animal disease control. On avian influenza, the state can order vaccines to be used, but the problem is determining which animals have been infected and which animals have not. The debate on a veterinary faculty has been going on with Department of Higher Education, and a final decision has not been taken on the matter yet.

Mr Mooketsa  Ramasodi, DAFF Deputy Director General: Agriculture Production, said that trans boundary diseases are receiving attention. Within SAVC, there is an effort to deal with trans boundary diseases. There have been discussions with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the next session with them will be a discussion on avian influenza. If the international coordination is not improved, they will never succeed in pest and disease control.

The Chairperson said the DAFF answer was inadequate when it said it had been waiting six months to see about OBP and vaccines. The Committee had previously engaged with OBP to see if the vaccines were available or not and the OBP made a presentation saying that everything will work out. The Committee wants not a personal opinion, but a factual confirmation that there are enough vaccines from OBP. At a previous meeting, SAVC raised challenges about registering animal health officials and the regulations requiring vets to receive permission to interact with protect species. Has DAFF aided SAVC on these issues yet?

Ms Steyn said that if DAFF has not received the e. coli report yet, they need to demand it. Why is it taking so long? Last year, veterinarians did not have enough money to travel for work because budget cuts were so severe. Is the e. coli report problem and budget cuts interrelated? Many of these animal diseases can affect humans so this needs to be addressed. Budget needs to be allocated so things can be properly dealt with.

Mr L Ntshayisa (AIC) asked if students in grade 12 could work as veterinary assistants.

Dr Adam replied he would respond in writing to the Committee within the next 14 days on the availability of the OBP vaccines. North West University is training assistants, but there are too many. They graduate expecting a job, but there are not any available. The assistants need to be better utilised by the state and private practices. Grade 12 students are not adequately trained in maths and science to be assistants.

Mr Ramasodi stated that the e coli issue was a technical matter, not the fact that the vaccine was not available. Someone alleged that the vaccine did not work and there was a technical investigation into it.

Avian Flu Outbreak: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries briefing
Mr Bothle Modisane, DAFF Chief Director: Animal Production and Health, gave the presentation accompanied by Mr Mooketsa  Ramasodi, DAFF Deputy Director General: Agriculture Production.

Last week there was an outbreak on a farm in Mpumalanga. Over 5 000 birds on the farm died and a further 19 000 had to be culled.

Avian influenza is spread through faeces and respiratory secretions of infected birds. The virus can be spread through direct contact of these secretions, contaminated water and feed, farm equipment, and clothing of people that came in contact with the secretions. The epidemic had been decreasing since February. H5N1 has continued to be reported from a few countries in Asia and North and West Africa still see some outbreaks. There was an outbreak in Zimbabwe about a month ago, and the importation of live and unprocessed poultry products from Zimbabwe was banned. A letter was sent to poultry owners informing them of the Zimbabwe outbreak and they were advised on how to take care of their animals.

The plan to deal with the recent 24 June outbreak in Mpumalanga has been to establish a 30km control zone in Mpumalanga and Free State and place affected farms under quarantine. Live birds on affected farms are culled in a humane manner. Thousands of birds have been disposed and eggs have been broken and disposed of to prevent environmental contamination. There has been an increase in surveillance across the country. A ban on the sale of live hens across the country was announced on 26 June 2017.

Mr Modisane said South Africa is concerned about this outbreak because there is a high level of mortality in the affected flocks, it is highly contagious, there is a risk to food safety and security, and there could be job losses. DAFF has been communicating with the public and farmers to put everyone on alert and to reduce the extent of the outbreak.

Ms Steyn said she is concerned that there is avian flu in South Africa. How do they test for the disease? Can animals be tested before they show signs of the disease? What is the cost of testing animals? People are advised not to eat cold chicken in order to not get sick but what are the signs people show when they do get sick? Is there a way for producers to be compensated for the loss of chickens? How much does the loss of the 20 000 chickens cost?

Mr Capa asked if the disease has had any effect on the import process. The free-range roaming birds are mainly indigenous to rural areas, how are they affected?

Mr H Kruger (DA) said that he is worried about the small farmers. What is the Department’s footprint and how can it communicate with the small farmers and producers about the outbreak? How does it test eggs to see if they are infected? Is there a way to test eggs without breaking them? Does the Department know what influence the outbreak will have on the GDP?

Mr Modisane replied that South Africa is supplying chickens to the southern African region and Nigeria. South Africa has stopped exporting raw ostrich meat to the EU, but continues to sell its cooked meat. The biggest advantage is that before the outbreak, a compartment exporting system was established. That means if a certain compartment is proved not to be infected, then that compartment can still export. Exports will not be greatly impacted. Israel is the only country to have banned South Africa’s exports so far.

On the movement of live hens, this was done to try and limit the spread of the disease. A study will be done within the next two weeks to determine if this is an effective approach. This is not a permanent situation. To test the birds before they are moved, they can either take a blood sample or swab the birds’ throats. The Department will bear the costs of the tests so the animal owners do not have to. It is submitting a request to Treasury for money to cover the unforeseen costs. The Department is not concerned that the avian influenza will affect people because it is difficult for humans to contract.

From a communications point of view, there has been TV, radio, and various media communications to alert the public. There is not a complete ban on the slaughtering of birds, it is still allowed under controlled conditions. Everyone is concerned the disease will spread to major poultry producing areas. Indigenous bird owners are advised to keep their birds away from wild birds. Instructions were sent out to free range owners and to small farmers to house their birds to prevent them from being infected. Eggs cannot be affected on the inside; they can get contaminated from the outside. The eggs must be disinfected before they are moved.

Mr W Maphanga (ANC) asked for a time frame on how long it will take to control this outbreak.

The Chairperson asked who is enforcing the national ban on the sale of live birds. Has there been any investigation into the possibility to have radio communication ready to tell people how they should react to the disease?

Mr Modisane replied that the Department has a sound bite and it needs to go on every radio station, not just a select few, so everyone can hear it. The submission to Treasury will request funding for enforcement, compensation, and all testing and surveillance. The normal incubation period for the disease is 21 days. They normally handle the outbreak for two incubation periods, so 42 days. However, the control of the outbreak will depend on the enforcement set out to cap the spread of the disease. The DAFF is getting people out to stop it as fast as possible.

The Chairperson stated that DAFF would give a progress report as soon as Parliament resumes at the beginning of August.

The meeting was adjourned.


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