Commonly known as Nagana, the virus is transmitted by tse-tse flies and can have dramatic consequences for sub-Saharan African smallholders, costing an estimated $4.5bn every year to farmers worldwide.
FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth told GlobalMeatNews: “It’s a chronic problem in these countries. Animals lose weight, become anaemic and can eventually die. Drug availability is a problem, but making sure that drugs are effective is another one.”
FAO and the International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH) have produced a pharmaceutical standard to combat fraudulent drugs not containing enough active ingredients, as they do not protect animals and can cause strains to become more resistant.
IFAH’s executive director Barbara Freischem said: “Counterfeiting appears to be higher for drugs like trypanocides that are high volume, with an estimated 35m single doses per year being administered to domestic ruminants in sub-Saharan Africa. This represents about 40-50% of the total animal health market in this area, so it would be a lucrative target.
“As they are not authorised and do not have a specified composition, there is a very real danger that they contain unwanted and potentially harmful substances, which then would enter the food chain when food-producing animals are being treated.”
The standard has now been submitted to the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE), which should publish it within the next few months.
An OIE spokesperson told GlobalMeatNews: “Because this issue is critical in the fight against counterfeit veterinary drugs, the Biological Standards Commission of the OIE is currently working on making provisions for the registration of drug monographs in the OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals.
“This is a long-term process and, in the meantime, the OIE offers the possibility to publish information on drugs, such as the monographs for trypanocides, in the OIE Scientific and Technical Review. The publication of these monographs is currently under review and, if cleared, will be issued in the next multi-thematic review (April 2012).”
Once the standard is implemented, FAO will need to ensure authorities in the affected countries receive adequate training and quality control facilities to test imported drugs. “We are assisting countries to be able to recognise what’s good, insufficient or fraudulent, and to trace the product back to the manufacturer in order to either close down the centre or improve the quality,” Lubroth added.
To that end, the organisation is trying to attract funding from local governments and private companies. “We are talking about developing countries, so the drugs have to be accessible and the price has to come down. We hope to attract funding to subsidise materials to the ones that need it the most,” Lubroth said.
A lot of work is also needed to raise awareness among African farmers, who might still be tempted to buy cheap drugs on the black market despite the new standard. Lubroth added: “A cheap vaccine is very expensive, and when farmers use one and compare the results with a farmer that used a quality product, they will hopefully end up choosing quality.”