The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has delivered emergency supplies to help Mozambique fight outbreaks of animal diseases such as African swine fever, foot and mouth disease or Rift Valley fever that could threaten people and livestock in the aftermath of floods caused by recent cyclones.
The assistance is in response to a request by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. It includes laboratory equipment, technical expertise and hundreds of chemical reagents and consumables to carry out early and rapid nuclear-derived tests to diagnose and monitor such diseases in the most hard-hit regions.
The southern African nation was struck by two tropical cyclones earlier this year, resulting in widespread floods in farmlands. “In addition to the tragic human death toll, more than 300 000 farm animals were killed and another 6 million were put at risk,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said. Prompt assistance by the IAEA is helping Mozambique to prepare for possible animal disease outbreaks, he added.
“People tend to drive animals away from the disaster areas, so they mix more, and disease outbreaks can flare up,” said Hermann Unger, a veterinarian and technical officer in the Joint Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture of the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “If you have thousands of animals together, you only need a single sick one for an epidemic to start.”
The assistance, provided through the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Programme and the FAO/IAEA VETLAB initiative, will help laboratories apply nuclear-derived diagnostic tests, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), to detect diseases quickly and with great accuracy. Early diagnosis is crucial in the management of outbreaks, allowing farmers and veterinarians to take the necessary control and mitigation measures quickly, such as isolation and vaccination campaigns.
The emergency package will go towards strengthening the Central Veterinary Laboratory in the capital Maputo as well as restoring services in strategic laboratories in the cities of Chimoio and Pemba, located in the central and northern regions most affected by the floods.
“After cyclones Idai and Kenneth, animal movements occurred and with those, diseases like foot and mouth disease and African swine fever may have spread to other provinces,” said Sara Achá, head of Mozambique’s Central Veterinary Laboratory. “Water- and vector-borne diseases may also have found new ground for their spread, so early and quick diagnosis can help contain this.”
The assistance will be used to monitor diseases such as the mosquito-borne Rift Valley fever, which can be passed to people who come into direct contact with infected animals. Apart from the health risk – most human cases are mild but can be severe – the economic impact can be profound due to high mortality and abortions among infected livestock.
Other diseases to be tested include foot and mouth disease, Newcastle disease, avian influenza and Pest de Petits Ruminants (PPR). “Displaced people will go with their livestock into forest areas and might come into contact with infected bush pigs,” said Unger, warning that outbreaks of African swine fever would likely increase.