Cape Town/Vienna 26 September 2023 – After an avian influenza outbreak claimed the lives of approximately 2.6 million birds, the majority being poultry, the South African government encouraged farmers to step up biosecurity measures.
Six of the nine provinces across South Africa were affected by the historic outbreak, causing economic and public health upheaval.
Yesterday evening, the South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) stated that a "vaccine will be fast-tracked" to deal with the ongoing crisis. DALRRD also confimed107,705 chickens had died so far, with the reported number of chickens culled at commercial farms “so far exceeding 1.3 million animals”.
Two strains of avian influenza have ripped across the country over the past few days, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 and HPAI H7, with Dr Richard Webby, Director of World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds, stating that "this virus is not being static, it's changing. That does increase the potential that even just by chance" the virus could "pick up genetic traits that allow it to be more of a human virus."
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), by the end of 2022, sixty-seven countries across five continents had reported highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks.
FOUR PAWS, the global animal welfare organisation, said that this was “yet another clear sign that factory farming has devasting consequences for animals and humans alike.”
Wendla Beyer, FOUR PAWS Policy Coordinator, said, “The avian influenza outbreaks that we are seeing could become a looming pandemic. It has spread globally at a record rate over the past two years, with 50 million poultry culled over that time in Europe alone."
“The case in South Africa shows that we must tackle such viral threats through a holistic One Health approach that addresses the way we farm animals to limit the toll on human health, livelihoods and economies and prevent outbreaks from occurring in the first place."
Wendla Beyer, FOUR PAWS Policy Coordinator
“HPAI outbreaks are happening inside factory farms with the highest biosecurity too. We need to reduce the number of animals farmed and reorganise food production systems if we are serious about limiting infectious disease risks.
Factory farms, where hundreds, even thousands, of animals are crowded in confined facilities, are reservoirs for viruses to mutate and spread or spill over to other species, including humans.”
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.za