An epidemic in Ethiopia - British charity workers work hard to fight against devastating disease

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Just one of the many case studies that will be discussed at this year’s Colloquium, hosted by World Horse Welfare – that will show how British charities and other organisations are improving the welfare of working equines overseas.

The contrast between life and horse ownership in Britain and the impoverished communities overseas where leading UK-based equine charities strive to improve conditions will come under the spotlight early next month as World Horse Welfare hosts the 7th International Colloquium on Working Equids. Below is just one snapshot of the work and research that will be discussed at this pivotal event for equine welfare and human livelihoods in developing countries.

Ethiopia has the largest equine population in Africa with an estimated 1.91 million horses, 6.75 million donkeys and 0.35 million mules - one deadly disease threatens the entire population.

These horses work every day to help many of the 92 million people in Ethiopia to survive by transporting water, food, people and produce – helping families to generate income, as well as making it possible for them to carry out household tasks.

The horses in Ethiopia suffer from a multitude of infectious diseases and poor management practices. This means that the horses' performance dips dramatically when, often, they fall ill - and the owners who rely on them for their livelihoods struggle to fetch water or bring in the income to feed their families.

In addition to the sad norm of malnutrition in Ethiopian horses, they also suffer from wounds, ocular disorders, parasites, colic, lameness and other musculoskeletal problems. Diseases affecting the equine population include epizootic lymphangitis, strangles, tetanus and ulcerative lymphangitis. The worst of them all, however, is African Horse Sickness (AHS).

Multiple annual outbreaks of this disease are regularly reported and recent studies reveal the existence of new circulating strains of the AHS virus. In an outbreak report published by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in 2008, a total of 15 outbreaks in south west Ethiopia led to 2185 equine deaths.

That same year, the country vaccinated 306,454 horses to limit the progress of outbreaks.

More recent studies conducted between 2009 and 2010 reported 10 outbreaks in central, eastern and western parts of the country, and studies in 2012 revealed that the dominant variation of the AHS virus (AHSV-9) is still the most prevalent.

In response to the discovery of two new circulating strains of this disease, a new vaccine was produced by the National Veterinary Institute in Ethiopia. Since then, no horses that were vaccinated have been reported with AHS.

Dr Nigatu Aklilu, SPANA Ethiopia Director, said: "African Horse Sickness is prevalent in almost all areas where horses are owned in Ethiopia and its impact is devastating. The new vaccine produced by the National Veterinary Institute has proved highly successful. However, there are still many reported outbreaks and mortalities amongst unvaccinated horses.”

Dr Andy Stringer, Director of Veterinary Programmes at SPANA, said: "There are many reasons why horses are still not being vaccinated against AHS. Vaccination programmes are poorly planned, with poor organisational structures and logistical issues. There is also a lack of sufficient information about the disease. Amongst owners there is a lack of awareness about the benefits of vaccination, in addition to the problems surrounding the availability and accessibility of vaccines.”

That's why SPANA is planning a national consultative workshop on the surveillance and prevention of African Horse Sickness in the most affected areas of the country.

The workshop will bring together officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Veterinary Institute, the National Animal Health Diagnostic and Investigation Centre, regional and zonal agricultural bureau representatives and non-governmental organisations.

The aim of the workshop, organised by SPANA, is to control the spread of AHS and to stop the suffering caused by the disease.

Find out about the crucial objectives of the workshop, and more about African Horse Sickness, including individual horse case studies, at the Colloquium.

The 7th International Colloquium on Working Equids, hosted by World Horse Welfare, will be held at the Royal Holloway, University of London on 1-3 July.

About SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad)

SPANA has been the charity for the working animals of the world since 1923, providing free veterinary care to horses, donkeys, mules and camels in some of the world’s poorest countries. The charity improves the welfare of working animals in three ways: free veterinary treatment, education and training and emergency and outreach projects.

It is estimate that there are around 200 million working animals worldwide that do the jobs of trucks, tractors and taxis, many of which support impoverished communities in developing countries.

Two princesses will be present at this pivotal event for horse and human welfare, HRH The Princess Royal and HRH Princess Haya of Jordan. Both will be guests of honour at two evening drinks receptions.

Equex Foundation – Shanghai Sports Development Foundation, are kind sponsors of a drinks reception and gala dinner that will celebrate the end of the colloquium.

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