Livestock diseases have a devastating impact on animal production and productivity, on trade of animals, meat and other animal products, on human health and on the overall process of economic development.
Despite the importance of the livestock industry to the development of the Zambian economy, the sector has not realized its full potential because it continues to face many challenges among them the frequent outbreaks of livestock diseases.
Some of the notable diseases in Zambia are Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), rabies, Rift Valley fever, lumpy skin disease, African swine fever, Newcastle disease, fowl pox, East Coast Fever (ECF), African Animal Trypanosomiasis, Contagious Bovine Plural Pneumonia (CBPP) and anthrax.
In order to control and prevent these livestock diseases, farmers use a wide range of antimicrobial medicines or drugs to treat microbial infections.
Antimicrobial drugs are chemical substances of natural or synthetic origin that suppress the growth of, or destroy, micro-organisms including bacteria, fungi, helminths, protozoa and viruses.
Antimicrobial medicines can be grouped according to the microorganisms they act primarily against. Examples of Antimicrobial medicines include antibiotics, antifungals, antiprotozoal and antiviral drugs.
The Antimicrobials disrupt the growth of micro-organisms by creating an environment that is not conducive or hospitable for micro-organisms.
But because of over-use and indiscriminate administration of the antimicrobials such as antibiotics, the medicines are not as effective as they should. The bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms become resistant and create a situation where there is no further antimicrobial to use.
Once the bacteria and viruses become resistant, the medicines become ineffective and can no longer help to treat and control diseases.
Veterinary Assistant in Chongwe, Reanox Mbewe, said the livestock sector is experiencing Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) because some farmers use medicines without proper diagnosis.
Mr Mbewe explained that the farmer may notice that when animals look sick but instead of consulting veterinary personnel, they administer some medicine which may not be the right one for a particular disease.
Mr. Mbewe said the farmer may not understand the instructions but will still administer some medicine using wrong dosages and may not follow the length of time for treatment.
“We sometimes experience resistance because of the wrong use of drugs.
Farmers even go to the extent of mixing two or more completely different drugs to administer to their animals,” Mr. Mbewe said.
Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya said the major contributor to AMR include misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans, animals and crops, along with poor management of waste from factories, healthcare setting, farms and at community level.
Dr. Chilufya said AMR can have a negative impact on food safety, nutrition security and livelihoods.
The challenge now is to reduce antimicrobial use in livestock production and maintaining animal health, welfare and productivity.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there is a wide choice of options for minimizing antimicrobial use in the animal production sector.
These include applying good husbandry practices while handling animals in the animal production establishments and during animal transportation.
Another choice is improving animal welfare by ensuring good air and quality water supply, appropriate ventilation rates and space allocation during all phases including production, transport and slaughter.
Farmers should also ensure good hygiene, biosecurity measures, and general conditions on farms to prevent the need for any medicines in the first place and applying rigorous disease control measures like vaccinations.
In particular, farmers should use antimicrobials only after they have been prescribed by a qualified animal health provider.
Mr. Mbewe also said the sick animal should complete the full course even when it gets better before the recommended period and use the right amounts of the drug per animal as prescribed by the health provider or as written on the label.
He advised livestock farmers to report any problems to the veterinary personnel before administering any drugs.
“Farmers should not get wrong advice from people who lack knowledge and they should not buy drugs without consultation. They should not sell animals and birds which are on treatment,” Mr. Mbewe said.
The threat of AMR is real and globally reaching crisis levels.
Resistant pathogens travel internationally through people, animals and food and there is need to act fast to address the threat.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) formed a tripartite agreement to fight AMR and drew up AMR Global Action Plan (GAP).
FAO Country Representative George Okech said the strategy focuses on four areas including improving awareness and related threats, developing capacity for surveillance and monitoring, strengthening governance and promoting good practices in food and agriculture systems and prudent use of antimicrobials.
Dr. Okech said Zambia is now in the early stages of implementation of its AMR national action plan.
He said one major factor that is accelerating the spread of AMR is the lack of awareness in communities and among professionals. He advised veterinary personnel to help promote good practices and prudent use of antimicrobials.
“Veterinarians should raise awareness of AMR by sharing solutions and practices that can slow it down by sharing best practices with clients, encouraging discussions, sharing research findings and being watchdogs to ensure that antimicrobials are preserved for tomorrow,”
Dr. Okech said.
Antimicrobial drugs have made a large contribution to both human and animal health but if not used responsibly and prudently, they become ineffective and cannot treat or control diseases.
In a bid to reduce the incidence of infections and emergence of AMR in livestock, veterinary personnel should work with livestock farmers for improved biosafety and biosecurity to ensure animal health security.-NAIS