British Charity Works to Fight African Horse Sickness

British Charity Works to Fight African Horse Sickness

In an outbreak report published by the World Organization for Animal Health in 2008, a total of 15 outbreaks in south west Ethiopia led to 2,185 equine deaths.

Photo: World Horse Welfare

Ethiopia has the largest equine population in Africa with an estimated 1.91 million horses, 6.75 million donkeys, and 0.35 million mules. It also has one deadly disease threatens the entire population: African horse sickness (or AHS).

At the 7th International Colloquium on Working Equids, taking place July 1-3 in Surrey, England, veterinarians will share how British equine welfare charities are working to fight AHS.

Ethiopian equids work every day to help many of the 92 million people in Ethiopia to survive by transporting water, food, people, and produce. This helps families generate income and makes it possible for them to carry out household tasks.

The horses in Ethiopia suffer from a multitude of infectious diseases and poor management practices. This means that the horses' performance dips dramatically when, often, they fall ill, and the owners who rely on them for their livelihoods struggle to fetch water or bring in the income to feed their families. In addition to malnutrition, the horses also suffer from wounds, ocular disorders, parasites, colic, lameness, and other musculoskeletal problems. Diseases affecting the equine population include epizootic lymphangitis, strangles, tetanus, and ulcerative lymphangitis. The worst of them all, however, is AHS.

Multiple annual outbreaks of this disease are regularly reported and recent studies reveal the existence of new circulating strains of the AHS virus. In an outbreak report published by the World Organization for Animal Health in 2008, a total of 15 outbreaks in south west Ethiopia led to 2,185 equine deaths.

That same year, the country vaccinated 306,454 horses to limit the progress of outbreaks.

More recent studies conducted between 2009 and 2010 reported 10 outbreaks in central, eastern, and western parts of the country, and studies in 2012 revealed that the dominant variation of the AHS virus (AHSV-9) is still the most prevalent.

In response to the discovery of two new circulating strains of this disease, a new vaccine was produced by the National Veterinary Institute in Ethiopia. Since then, no horses that were vaccinated have been reported with AHS.

"African horse sickness is prevalent in almost all areas where horses are owned in Ethiopia and its impact is devastating," Nigatu Aklilu, DVM, MSc, the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad's (SPANA) Ethiopia director, said. "The new vaccine produced by the National Veterinary Institute has proved highly successful. However, there are still many reported outbreaks and mortalities amongst unvaccinated horses.”

Andy Stringer, BVSc, MRCVS, director of veterinary programs at SPANA, added, "There are many reasons why horses are still not being vaccinated against AHS. Vaccination programs are poorly planned, with poor organizational structures and logistical issues. There is also a lack of sufficient information about the disease. Amongst owners there is a lack of awareness about the benefits of vaccination, in addition to the problems surrounding the availability and accessibility of vaccines.”

Thus SPANA is planning a national consultative workshop on the surveillance and prevention of AHS in the most affected areas of the country. The workshop will bring together officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Veterinary Institute, the National Animal Health Diagnostic and Investigation Centre, regional and zonal agricultural bureau representatives, and non-governmental organizations.

Additional information about the crucial objectives of the workshop, and more about AHS, including individual horse case studies, will be provided at the colloquium.

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