Southern African countries urged to put in place early warning systems to counter emerging new pests and diseases

By Wallace Mawire

Chimimba David Phiri, Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa for the Food and Agriculture Organization
Chimimba David Phiri, Subregional Coordinator for
Southern Africa for the Food and Agriculture Organization

Countries in southern Africa and the entire sub-Saharan region have
been urged to have early warning or alert systems that are fully
functional to enable policy makers to take quick action and trigger
timely and appropriate responses, based on accurate and timely
information in the midst of perennial emergence of new pests and

According to Chimimba David Phiri, Subregional Coordinator for
Southern Africa for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations and Moetapele Letshwenyo, Subregional Representative
for Southern Africa for the World Organisation for Animal Health, the
recent emergence of HPAI, as well as that of the fall armyworm late
last year through to 2017, have revealed that most countries do not
have updated contingency plans.

“The perennial emergence of new pests and diseases is another strong
call for updating of contingency plans at national and regional level.
It is also important to review legal frameworks, strengthen regional
coordination and in-country collaboration among sectors, and to ensure
that national contingency plans are harmonized and aligned to the SADC
regional HPAI control strategy,” the experts say.

They add that Avian Influenza is a virus of birds causing illness
and death not only in domesticated birds, but also in wild birds. When
an outbreak occurs, it becomes difficult to contain as it spreads
rapidly through poultry flocks. Avian influenza can spread through
direct contact between susceptible and infected birds, or contact with
their secretions and excretions such as respiratory discharges or
faeces. The disease can also spread through contaminated feed,
equipment, clothing and footwear.

“It attacks both free-range family poultry and intensively reared
birds on large-scale commercial production sites with the same lethal
results. As such, its emergence for the first time within the region
should jerk all stakeholders into collective action, as it also knows
no national borders,” the experts have said.
It is also reported that commercial producers are particularly
affected as they bear the brunt of the economic losses that are likely
to obtain.

They however add that the impacts are far reaching as the
commercial poultry industry provides employment and supplies day old
chicks to smallholder poultry keepers, most table eggs and poultry
meat. As such, any shock to this industry would have far reaching
consequences including job losses, shortages of poultry food products
in the markets and food price increases.
They have also reported that the likelihood of new outbreaks of
Avian Influenza in the region remains high.

“However, producers can protect susceptible poultry flocks by
strengthening biosecurity measures and national authorities need to
strengthen preparedness and response capacities, controls and measures
put in place to monitor disease in poultry flocks and in wild bird
populations, and to ensure compliance with import and export
controls,” they say.

According to the experts, everyone, including consumers, should be
aware of the potential of avian influenza virus to cause disease and
death in domestic poultry, as well as how it can be transmitted. Some
strains of the Avian Influenza virus are reported to have the
potential to become infectious to humans although the H5N8 Virus
currently reported in Southern Africa has not been known to affect
human health.

“It is of paramount importance to always adhere to the advice,
instructions and precautions issued by the competent authorities,”
according to the experts

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