It has come to the attention of the Democratic Alliance that vaccines produced by state-run Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) for the deadly Rift Valley Fever are ineffective.
Farmers are thus paying for deficient medicine. If immediate action is not taken, potential losses in farm income could devastate South Africa’s rural economy. Agriculture currently accounts for 650,000 jobs in the formal sector.
The National Planning Commission has identified the agricultural sector as a prime opportunity for rural job creation. This opportunity must not be forgone. I will therefore be writing to the National Consumer Commission requesting them to investigate whether OBP has breached the Consumer Protection Act (2008).
I will also be submitting parliamentary questions to the Minister of Agriculture, Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, to determine the following: whether she is aware of the problems relating to the OBP vaccines; what steps are being taken by her department to address the problems relating to the processes at OBP; what steps are being taken to address the potential consequences of the defective vaccines for the agricultural sector; and how the department is ensuring that the disease is contained?
Onderstepoort is the state-funded institute primarily responsible for training state vets and producing animal vaccines. Vaccines are the most important line of defence in preventing and controlling disease outbreaks. Sheep farmers who had vaccinated livestock against Rift Valley Fever in early 2011 have recently had to stand by and watch their livestock die. Rift Valley Fever is a viral epidemic which causes animals (predominantly sheep and goats) to unnaturally abort their offspring.
Some farmers only reaped a 20 % lamb crop this year. This kind of devastation kills profitability, and undermines the ability of commercial agriculture to keep or create jobs. Preliminary results from a study on the efficacy of the RVF vaccines conducted by Cape Wools SA suggest inadequate responses in two vaccines (Smithburn and Clone 13) produced by OBP.
Farmers are currently vaccinating without confidence, or are forced to import costly generic vaccines. Generics are not specifically developed to treat diseases peculiar to South Africa. This may create further complications of resistance in the future.
Minister Joemat-Pettersson should respond to this issue as a matter of urgency. South Africa’s rural communities cannot pay the price for ineffective state institutions. Appropriate measures to clarify the reasons for the RVF vaccine failure must be put in place and the Minister must confirm thasteps are taken to ensure that the disease is contained.
Annette Steyn MP DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheriest