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AHS Vaccine Debate

Posted: 3/5/2012, 22:09

Dear Shadow Minister

Whilst we share the DA’s concerns regarding the state of affairs within the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the State Owned Enterprises (SOE) they are responsible for, we are also concerned about your statements regarding OBP’s AHS vaccine. Firstly, on the accuracy of the statement and secondly, on the potential negative impact it might have on the international stage, especially in light of the current suspension of horse exports from South Africa.

You are correct that the technology used to produce the AHS vaccine is outdated and certainly the overall manufacturing process can be improved on to the satisfaction of the local horse owner. However, the current vaccine (live polyvalent modified), whilst not perfect, does provide significant protection against most sero-types for horses that are vaccinated in accordance with the manufacturers recommendations. Principally, this requires that the cold-chain is maintained before administering the vaccine, clearly a major problem for the rural community horse owners, estimated to be responsible for 50% of the 300 000 horses thought to be residing in South Africa. The greatest losses during the AHS high risk season are, therefore, presumed to occur in the rural areas.

Where government has clearly fallen short is to provide cheap (if not free), readily available and professionally administered vaccines for these communities. This will not only preserve the economic value attached to the horse, but also ensure that the immunity of the herd is lifted which, consequently contributes to the protection of the formal sport horse sectors. The economic impact of such a policy is significant: less infection→ fewer deaths→ reduced likelihood of outbreaks→ fewer export suspensions→ increased international confidence→ growth in foreign revenue!   

As with all diseases, vaccination on its own does not provide 100% protection and a range of protection measures are also recommended including basic animal husbandry to improve immunity and protection against attack from the vector which transmits the virus, the culicoides midge.

In respect of the manufacture of the AHS vaccine, OBP does not enjoy a monopoly. Patent protection has long since been lost and the technology is freely available for other manufacturers to produce the vaccine. The truth is that the current limited market does not support the commercial production of the same vaccine.

There are, however, two privately funded initiatives currently underway to address the problem. The first is to improve the overall efficacy of the current vaccine and the second, using the latest vaccine technology, to develop an inactivated (dead) recombinant vaccine that improves efficacy, is easier to administer and is safe to use internationally. The successful completion of the latter project will positively impact South Africa’s ability to trade internationally for the benefit of the broader equestrian community and the country itself. This is where significant and urgent funding is required.

As with most issues of national importance, constructive engagement with all role players is urged and we would gladly participate in finding workable solutions.

For all matters pertaining to AHS, horse exports and the sport of horseracing, please don’t hesitate to contact our organization.

With kind regards

Your sincerely

Peter Gibson

Representing the South African Equine Trade Council
P O Box 40, Durban, 4000
JB McIntosh Drive, Summerveld, Shongweni
Tel.  +27 (31) 769 2961/3     
Fax.  +27 (31) 769 2944
Cell. +27 (83) 406 4881
Democratic Alliance press statement by
Annette Steyn MP
DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

African Horse Sickness: Government vaccines must be subject to independent oversight

11 April 2012
Release: immediate

It has come to the Democratic Alliance (DA)’s attention that vaccines produced by state-run Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) for the deadly African Horse Sickness (AHS) are ineffective. It is estimated that up to 1,000 horses died of the disease last year.

This news comes shortly after the DA publicised the deficiency of state-produced vaccines for Rift Valley Fever (RVF).

Today I will write to the Minister of Agriculture, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, to call for steps to be taken to ensure that OBP vaccines are subjected to testing by an independent oversight body such as the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).

Last week, I requested an investigation by the National Consumer Commission into potential breaches of the Consumer Protection Act (2008) by OBP with respect to vaccines for RVF. I will now be asking the Commission to expand the scope of their investigation to include AHS vaccines.

OBP is the state-funded institute primarily responsible for the research and development of animal vaccines. The entity effectively has a monopoly on the production of vaccines. For example, all horses entered into official races have to be certified as OBP-vaccinated.

The original vaccine for AHS was developed in 1957, and the only subsequent work that’s been done was in 1995. In 2006, horse-owners enquired about whether a new vaccine would be developed. OBP promised that there would be one in ‘five years’ time’. No new product has been made available.

According to the AHS Trust, the most recent outbreak of AHS lasted five months and has caused 31 deaths (out of 61 known cases thus far).

The most problematic aspect of the current state of affairs is that OBP’s internal quality control department is responsible for oversight to ensure that vaccines produced comply with the necessary international standards. This leaves too much room for abuse. OBP cannot be allowed to operate as both player and referee in the lucrative vaccine market.

Horse breeders and farmers are paying up to R300 per animal for AHS vaccines that do not appear to be effective. This is a lot of money to pay for a product that is not working. Meanwhile, OBP’s net cash inflow from operating activities in 2011 was R51 642 089, and their operating profit was R20 675 931.  

Vaccines are the most important line of defence in preventing and controlling disease outbreaks. Farmers are currently vaccinating without confidence, and OBP seem intent on maintaining their monopoly in this lucrative industry at all costs.        

Minister Joemat-Pettersson should respond to this issue as a matter of urgency.

South Africa’s rural communities cannot pay the price for ineffective state institutions. The Minister must demonstrate to South Africans that steps are being taken to ensure that the disease is contained.     

Media enquiries:

Annette Steyn MP
DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
083 323 0027

Cameron Arendse
Media Officer
079 477 2744


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