A UK government programme has warned that animal diseases will pose a growing threat in Africa unless the continent's health and veterinary services are significantly improved.
The warning came yesterday (26 April) in a study by the Foresight programme, set up to advise the government on risks that emerging diseases could pose to people, animals and plants over the next 25 years.
Of the world's 15 most important animal diseases, 12 occur in Africa. Rift Valley fever and foot-and-mouth disease, both of which can devastate livestock, have been spreading there recently.
Such threats could grow in coming years as movements of people and animals increase and farming intensifies, predicts the report.
It says tackling livestock diseases will be key to reducing rural poverty but that Africa lacks the resources and skilled personnel to achieve this. Improved technologies for detecting, identifying and monitoring diseases will be essential.
The report also highlights the way animal diseases can harm people and concludes that most human diseases that emerge in the future will be linked to animal diseases.
Currently, 75 per cent of emerging and re-emerging diseases in humans are also present in animals.
"The report highlights the need to work together on these problems," says Catherine Peckham, of University College London, one of the project's lead scientists.
Africa could also face a growing threat from plant diseases in the future, says Jeff Waage of Imperial College London, another lead scientist.
"Africa is opening up — there is a lot more internal trade now, so diseases can spread more quickly," he explains. "Outbreaks are much more severe than they used to be".
Waage told SciDev.Net that the movement of plants is bringing diseases together, allowing them to mix and become more virulent.
"Plant disease threatens Africa's economic stability," he told SciDev.Net. "The impact of disease outbreaks in plants is amplified by poverty, and people depending on one or two few crops for survival."
More than 300 scientists from 30 countries contributed to the 18-month study.