Three recent developments in African horse sickness (AHS) research will support the safe direct exports of horses from South Africa.
— The Witness

Professor Ian Sanne of the Wits Health Consortium Equine Health Fund said in a statement last week: “Our research find will enable the export of South Africa’s sought-after racehorses, endurance horses and sports horses. The depreciation of our currency also augers well for this industry. We currently export horses to the value of R230 million per year, but this can easily increased to R1 billion,” said Sanne.

African Horse Sickness (AHS) has affected South African horse exports since the sixties and stakeholders have been working to find long-term solutions. Mike de Kock, a top racehorse trainer commented “Our horses are in demand, with efficient exports we could create thousands of jobs and bring in massive foreign investment”.

In 1997, a small AHS-free zone was established in the Western Cape, enabling horse exports directly to the European Union. But trade has been disrupted several times dues to outbreaks of AHS in the area.

Mick Goss, Summerhill Stud horse breeder, said: “With our currency as light as it is there has never been a more favourable prospect for international trade”. The Equine Health Fund and Equine Research Centre are working with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to address deficiencies highlighted in previous inspections, to facilitate direct trade from South Africa.

Developments in scientific research include:

  • A study by the Equine Research Centre (ERC) and University of Pretoria, showing that AHS outbreaks in the Western Cape controlled area were caused by transmission of AHS vaccine-derived viruses.
  • These findings lead to a restricted vaccination period in the area and the recommendation that horse owners vaccinate their horse between June 1 and October 31 each year in the rest of the country.
  • Advances in diagnostic testing mean cases of AHS can be confirmed within four hours of samples being submitted – it used to take at least two weeks.
  • The Biological Standards Commission of the World Organisation for Animal Health recently reviewed and accepted the validation dossier for the test developed at the ERC.
  • An AusVet risk assessment confirmed the likelihood of undetected AHS infection in horses exported from South Africa can be reduced to miniscule by appropriate risk management measures, giving confidence to trading partners to re-examine quarantine procedures.