State veterinary services need attention

By Ismail Obaray MPL DA Northern Cape Spokesperson of Agriculture:

The DA is concerned that ongoing inefficiencies within the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture’s veterinary services programme poses a serious risk to animal health in the province.

The veterinary services unit has the very important task of preventing and controlling animal diseases, rendering epidemiological services for early warning and monitoring of animal diseases, as well as reducing sanitary risks in the import and export of animals and animal products.

Unresolved issues within the department, however, are hampering performance of this critical programme.  This is worrying given the Northern Cape’s propensity for diseases such as foot and mouth disease and Brucella.

According to the department’s 2013/2014 Annual Report, the Northern Cape Provincial Veterinary Laboratory was not a registered and approved laboratory in terms of ISO Certification nor was it SABS accredited. The report further indicted that healthcare waste deficiencies existed within the laboratory; that there was no Health, Safety and Environmental Protection policy in place and that the emergency shower and incinerator in the laboratory were not in working condition. It was also stated that there are inadequate access controls to the laboratory and that the laboratory was experiencing shortages of critical posts.

When the DA questioned the department about these serious issues during a portfolio committee meeting last year, the department brushed the issues aside, saying that it was moving vigorously to meet all laboratory requirements. Progress, specifically with regards to accreditation, however, remains uncertain.  

The department’s first quarter performance report for the current financial year also tells a different story.

According to the latest report, the number of tests performed, of which the quality meets the ISO 17025 standard and OIE requirements, was only 5193 compared with a target of 7500. At the same time, 454 tests were performed using tests which do not meet indicator requirements. Furthermore, the De Aar state veterinary office was sending Brucella serology samples to provincial laboratories in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape due to non-availability of complement fixation tests (CFT) at Kimberley provincial laboratory. The post-mortem service was also stopped due to the breakdown of the incinerator.

Poor performance has been exacerbated by administrative bungles and staff shortages. In this regard, there was a disruption of courier services from the state veterinary offices due to delayed payment of the service provider Skynet. As a result, there was a complete shutdown from the 20th of May 2015 which was only resolved on 30th June 2015. This in turn resulted in fewer samples reaching the lab.

The number of epidemiological units visited for veterinary interventions was also only 563 compared with a target of 2100. According to the department, the output was extremely low due to staff shortages in offices such as Upington and De Aar. The manager of Animal Health, the control Animal Health Technician in Upington and the state vet in Calvinia have also resigned.

The above challenges are detrimental to maintaining animal health.

The DA has today submitted a request to the portfolio committee chairperson of agriculture, Fufe Makatong, to request that we conduct an oversight visit of the laboratory. Parliamentary questions to further probe this matter, including whether the department has as yet received all necessary accreditation and if so, when such accreditation was received,   will also be submitted.

Animal health impacts directly on public health and must be managed properly.