Financial Gazette Harare Farai Mabeza
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Government is moving to protect the country’s sheep and goats from a disease called peste des petits ruminants (PPR) due to the porous borders and cross-border, community interactions within borders towns.

Sheep and goats are part of the broader animal family known as ruminants.

These are defined as cud-chewing hoofed mammals that have a stomach divided into four (occasionally three) compartments and they also include cattle.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) PPR is a severe, fast-spreading disease of mainly domestic small ruminants such as sheep and goats.

It is characterised by the sudden onset of depression, fever, discharges from eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, disturbed breathing and cough, foul-smelling diarrhoea and death.

Paddy Zhanda, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture (Livestock) explained Zimbabwe’s plan to prevent the disease at a meeting of veterinary experts from Southern Africa in Harare last week.

“While we believe that Zimbabwe may still be free from PPR we need to build a body of evidence on this. Our approach is aimed at keeping us free and informing us at the earliest possible opportunity should this status change.”

The country’s border areas are very porous and there is frequent movement and interaction between communities living on the different sides.

This poses a serious challenge for the control of animal movement.

At the end of last year there were fears of PPR cases in the Mukumbura area in northern Zimbabwe following an outbreak on the Zambian side of the border.

Cases of barter trade, social exchange of small ruminants and other informal trade mechanisms are common in such areas.

“We continue to monitor the situation. In Zimbabwe for movement of animals to occur permission must be sought from veterinary officials but nine times out of 10 you will find people ignore laid down procedures,” Zhanda told the Financial Gazette’s Agricultural News on the sidelines of the meeting.

FAO sub regional coordinator for southern Africa and representative for Zimbabwe, David Phiri, talked about the importance of sheep and goats among developing countries where they have an essential role in livelihood, food security and nutrition because they are more easily disposable than cattle.

“Thus, small ruminants have a direct impact on the economies of these countries and wellbeing of their entire populations.”

PPR is the small ruminant disease with the highest impact in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

SADC countries represent 4,25 percent of the global 2,1 billion small ruminant population.

FAO recently implemented a regional project on “capacity building to prevent PPR introduction into Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia” but clearly in Zambia this has failed, Phiri admitted.

For other non-infected SADC countries the programme will assist in developing capacity to demonstrate the absence of the PPR virus and move towards World Organisation for Animal Health official recognition of PPR free status.

For infected SADC countries, the programme will commence the PPR control and elimination effort by developing national capacities; enhancing understanding of the epidemiological situation and defining appropriate implementation strategies to reduce its prevalence and eventually eradicate the disease.

FAO said early warning is the key to early reaction for containment, control and rapid elimination.

There is also a risk that PPR may have passed unrecognised for years in some countries because it is frequently confused with other diseases that cause respiratory problems and mortality of small ruminants.

Many veterinarians, animal health workers and livestock owners in areas where PPR is absent or recently introduced are not familiar with its clinical and pathological features. FAO has prepared a manual to help them recognise this trans-boundary disease as it emerges and evolves.

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