Author: Dr Mary-Louise Penrith


This module provides broad concepts and principles of some of the tools that are available for animal health management. Modules on each of the tools are available that explore them in more detail.

Veterinarian with protective clothing in the field

Storage of samples in liquid nitrogen

Veterinary medical supplies

Managing animal health involves the prevention, control and if possible eradication of animal diseases. The eradication of rinderpest announced by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE – Office International des Épizooties) in 2011 is regarded as a global triumph for animal disease control and has sparked hopes that it will be possible to eradicate other important transboundary animal diseases. A number of features made the eradication of rinderpest possible. The serious and fatal nature of the disease and the fact that cattle, in general the most important livestock species, were affected, assured strong interest on the part of the producers and international organisations involved in the control of animal diseases. The virus was unable to survive for long outside a living host, there was no long-term carrier state, and there was a highly effective vaccine. Most of the serious diseases of livestock lack one or more of these favourable characteristics but there are tools that assist in their management even if eradication is not a realistic possibility.

The aim of managing animal health is to minimise the negative effects of animal diseases on animal production and welfare, trade in livestock and livestock products, and human health. It involves preventing outbreaks of epidemic diseases and managing endemic diseases in cost-effective ways that minimise their impact on production, trade, livelihoods and human health and prevent their spread to areas where they are not endemic. The ability of animal health service providers in both the public and private sector to effectively manage animal health depends on knowledge of the diseases involved and access to information and tools as required.
Some of the tools available for managing animal health, for which details are provided in dedicated modules, are the following:

  • Surveillance
  • Participatory epidemiology
  • Information systems
  • Communication
  • Farmer awareness and education
  • Laboratory diagnostics
  • Risk assessment
  • Contingency planning and simulation exercises
  • Modelling
  • Vaccination
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biosecurity
  • Segregation of populations at risk or posing a risk
  • Animal identification and traceability

These tools will be discussed briefly in terms of what they imply and how and when they can be applied, as well as their practicality and acceptability. While some, like laboratory diagnostics, are not negotiable, others, for example the use of veterinary cordon fences to separate wildlife from livestock, are controversial.

Management of diseases is dictated by whether they are endemic or epidemic or exotic. This of course varies from country to country and sometimes between different areas within a country. A large number of so-called transboundary animal diseases (TADs), i.e. diseases that have serious consequences and a high potential for spread across international borders, are endemic in sub-Saharan Africa but have been eradicated elsewhere, in particular North America and Western Europe. Some of them, for example African swine fever (ASF), continue to have devastating effects in spite of being endemic, while others, for example foot and mouth disease (FMD), usually cause only mild disease but result in market exclusion. In order to attain market access to countries where FMD has been eradicated, the control measures required of endemically infected countries are out of proportion to the effect of FMD on local herds. In southern Africa, where African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) are the main source of infection for cattle, the control measures designed to separate wildlife from domestic livestock (e.g. game proof fences) have a negative effect on biodiversity conservation. The restrictions imposed on livestock owners in areas adjacent to wildlife conservation areas are difficult to accept because in extensively kept cattle in sub-Saharan Africa the manifestations of FMD are usually mild.

Sub-Saharan Africa is also host to a variety of erosive vector-borne diseases like theileriosis, heartwater, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and trypanosomosis that cause production losses and sometimes high mortality where they do not exist in a state of endemic stability.

Managing exotic diseases involves ensuring that measures are in place to keep them out, and ensuring that capacity exists to mount a rapid and effective response if an exotic disease is introduced into a free country or area.
Managing epidemics means applying the measures needed to prevent spread and bring an end to an epidemic as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible.

Managing endemic diseases is largely a farm-level activity and involves preventive and control measures aimed at reducing the negative effects of the disease and if possible eliminating it altogether from herds.
Tools for managing animal health can be divided into three broad categories:

  • Tools for gathering and disseminating information about animal health
  • Tools to support strategic planning for and evaluation of disease prevention and control interventions
  • Tools used for disease prevention and control interventions.