In a swift response to the growing threat of anthrax to its national cattle herd, the Zimbabwean Government has launched a series of measures aimed at containing the deadly disease. Anthrax has already claimed the lives of 36 cattle in Chipinge, Hurungwe, and Gokwe South and North, prompting concerns about its rapid spread, particularly during the rainy season.
The Veterinary Services Department, acting on behalf of the government, has identified anthrax hotspots in 31 districts across the country and has initiated efforts to control the disease. Residents in areas with reported cases of anthrax remain at risk, highlighting the urgent need for vaccination campaigns and preventive measures to curb the outbreak.
The outbreak’s proximity to neighboring Zambia, where anthrax cases surfaced last year, has raised concerns about cross-border transmission. Zimbabwe shares ecosystems with Zambia, and the frequent movement of animals and humans between the two countries has increased the risk of anthrax spreading into Zimbabwe.
Dr. Pious Makaya, Acting Chief Director of the Department of Veterinary Services, emphasized the importance of vaccination efforts along the interface where livestock, wildlife, and humans interact. Carnivores and scavengers, such as lions and hyenas, can consume infected carcasses and transmit the disease, making it essential to secure these areas.
The government’s proactive stance aims to safeguard the national herd, which plays a crucial role in ensuring food security within the country. The Livestock Growth Plan (2020-2025), launched by President Mnangagwa, envisions an increase in the cattle herd from 5.4 million to six million by 2025, aligning with Zimbabwe’s broader Agricultural and Food Systems Transformation Strategy.
Approximately 90 percent of the national cattle herd is held by smallholder communal farmers. However, diseases like anthrax have hindered livestock production growth. The government’s commitment to combat animal diseases reflects its dedication to entering local, regional, and international markets while supporting farmers and ranchers.
In response to the outbreak, Zimbabwe has secured 436,000 doses of anthrax vaccine, which are already being administered to animals in the 31 identified hotspots. To fully control the outbreak, an estimated 1.6 to 2 million doses of the vaccine are required, as the current supply meets only approximately 21 percent of the country’s needs.
To strengthen Zimbabwe’s livestock sector and mitigate threats to animal health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with support from the European Union (EU) and the Zimbabwean Government, convened over 75 key stakeholders from the northern region. They gathered to review and validate the national tick-borne disease control strategy, animal health regulations, and veterinary profession regulations.
Moreover, the Department of Veterinary Services is poised to produce its own vaccines in 2024-2025. Training has already been provided to individuals responsible for vaccine production, with the acquisition of specialized equipment being the final hurdle.
In the meantime, citizens are advised not to consume meat from unknown sources. Farmers are encouraged to report cattle deaths to the Department of Veterinary Services promptly. Carcasses will be safely disposed of, and affected areas disinfected to prevent the disease from lingering in the environment, potentially triggering further outbreaks. Individual farmers are also urged to purchase available vaccines in the market to safeguard their livestock from anthrax.