Department of Science and Innovation supports World Veterinary Day

As the world marks World Veterinary Day, held annually on the last Saturday of April, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and its partners are continuing to support the development of new technologies and innovations, and the commercialisation of new products and services, to improve the condition of farm animals and better manage animal health risks.


Through its Bio-economy Strategy, the DSI supports the improvement of conditions for animals in agriculture, and has a number of initiatives to reduce animal health risks. Among these, the Animal Health Cluster of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an entity of the DSI, is working to provide new vaccines and diagnostics for animal diseases. The Cluster aims to revitalise veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturing, thereby reducing South Africa's dependence on imports. Diseases such as bluetongue, African horse sickness, heartwater, lumpy skin disease and blue tick-borne diseases are among the priorities.


This year's World Veterinary Day is focused on celebrating the contribution of veterinarians to the health of animals, people and the environment.


Dr Siphesihle Nxumalo-Maseko of the Agricultural Research Council said diagnostics and research were crucial for providing information on the health status of herds and flocks in South Africa, thereby supporting vets in the field and providing early warning of disease outbreaks to the government.


Commenting on World Veterinary Day, the KwaZulu-Natal born researcher called on the government to ensure that adequate resources were made available for communities in rural areas, where large herds of cattle reside. She also highlighted the lack of veterinarians in South Africa, saying the shortage must be addressed.


"Priority needs to be given to integrating South African veterinarians who have qualified abroad to register with the South African Veterinary Council, as their skills are critically scarce," Dr Nxumalo-Maseko said, adding that the role the profession plays in society should be recognised and valued as much as that of medical doctors.


For Dr Molebogeng Nkagisang, who works on veterinary radiographs and uses machine learning to comprehensively assess current and potential ailments in animals, World Veterinary Day is important both for recognition of the profession and for raising awareness of animal health and welfare.


"It is on days like these that we get to stand proud and showcase the amazing and important work being done by veterinarians and para-veterinarians in our society," Dr Nkagisang said.


In addition to the work of its Animal Health Cluster, the Technology Innovation Agency recently funded the development of a diagnostic test kit for the early detection of foot and mouth disease (FMD), a devastating livestock disease that remains an ongoing concern for the government, affecting significant herd numbers and negatively impacting the country's exports of beef and beef by-products.


Another of the DSI's entities, the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR), together with Gauteng-based start-up TokaBio, has developed a point-of-care technology that enables livestock farmers to make informed decisions on their livestock's disease status, thus helping to reduce the spread of FMD in the most efficient way possible.


The initial technology was developed by CSIR, while TokaBio developed it further for commercialisation.


Dr Phiyani Lebea, Managing Director at TokaBio, said the diagnostic technology allows the clinical veterinary sector to institute targeted treatment and implement prevention measures swiftly. "Overall, this means better livestock health and a boost to the rural and agri-commercial industry," Dr Lebea said.


The 4IR-enabled technology facilitates quick turnaround times for tests results, enabling farmers to rapidly isolate diseased animals. Whereas it normally takes up to two weeks to receive results from laboratories, the new technology makes results available within the hour via a mobile device which is also connected to the government regulators' database.


By providing live information on the disease status of livestock, this strengthens the government's livestock disease surveillance programme. At the same time, it enhances South Africa's position in terms of beef exports, while also responding to the needs of the domestic livestock market.


Dr Essa Suleman, Principal Researcher and Research Group Leader at the CSIR, said the technology would improve livestock production and access to lucrative export markets. He added that the Veterinary Molecular Diagnostics and Vaccines Programme at the CSIR had developed strong expertise and a variety of technologies aimed at improving the livestock and agricultural sectors and supporting the work of veterinary health professionals.


Examples include the Lab-on-Chip Point-of-Care molecular diagnostics platform, which enables rapid detection of important diseases affecting livestock, such as brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis.


In a project co-funded by the DSI, the CSIR also recently completed field trials of diagnostic assays for detecting Infectious Spleen and Kidney Necrosis Virus (ISKNV) and Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV), which cause severe mortalities in the aquaculture industry.


"These technologies will assist veterinarians serving these sectors to rapidly identify and mitigate the effects of disease outbreaks," said Dr Suleman.


Given the impact of animal disease outbreaks – costing the local industry up to R10 billion per annum, compared to an estimated R1,3 billion annually for stock theft losses – there is no doubting the value of new technologies and innovations for maintaining animal health and improving farmer's livelihoods.


Issued by the Department of Science and Innovation


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