Representatives of the equine industry, Mr Larry Wainstein, Mr Vumile Gqomose and Dr Bennie van der Merwe (who also serves on the Equine Research Centre Management Committee and the Horse Import Export Task Team) were given the opportunity to enlighten the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture on the challenges South Africa faces with African horse sickness (AHS) and the effect this disease has on the South African economy and the possibility of South Africa hosting an Olympic Games.
Dr van der Merwe, who conducted the presentation, highlighted the impact that AHS has on the ability of SA to export horses at their full value – for instance SA horses are sold for 25% of their value owing to the onerous export protocols that are a result of AHS. It was also pointed out that the ability of SA to host the Equestrian Olympics is an integral part of the bid process and without a plan in place by 2017, the chance of a successful bid for the 2024 Olympics is unlikely. The plan depends on SA’s ability to manage African horse sickness and a high level task team that includes representatives from for e.g. the Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Sport and Recreation; Trade and Industry; Science and Technology, and needs to be formed urgently.
A new generation vaccine for AHS, that is internationally recognised and validated, would go a long way to solving the AHS problem. A vaccine candidate (as well as a highly sensitive PCR diagnostic test) has been developed by the Equine Research Centre, University of Pretoria but funding is needed to complete the process. Just 10% of the R500 million promised by Government to Onderstepoort Biological Products will go a long way to solving the problem.