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Methodology helps assess price tag of countering cattle’s lumpy skin disease

Inspection of a cow.

It was recently, in 2015, when the infectious lumpy skin disease first entered the Balkan Peninsula and started its rally by infecting cattle in several countries. Measures to control – or possibly eradicate – the disease differed in various countries, and a new FAO study assesses approaches in three of them (Albania, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to explore the cost-effectiveness of each. 

The methodology used in the study is transferrable to other countries and diseases, helping decision makers choose the most effective measures with the lowest economic and financial burdens for their national budgets and farmers.

The disease causes economic losses across the board – for farmers in reduced fertility and milk production, damage to the valuable skin, and even the eventual death of the animal, and for local and national authorities in the cost of preventive and control measures. And then there are the trade losses, as countries with declared infections must put a hold on exports.

“There are different approaches and tools to react to the disease,” said FAO animal health specialist Daniel Beltran-Alcrudo, a co-author of the publication. “Each country can choose a different combination of these, as we can see in the cases presented by the study. Such decisions can become more grounded if calculating the costs of certain actions or even of being inactive.”

In Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Albania, lumpy skin disease spread rapidly after initial detection in the first half of 2016, affecting 217, 1 464 and 3 568 herds, respectively, that year. Consequences were not the same for each country, however, considering their different animal production structures and preferred control strategies.

Bulgaria, which stamped out affected herds, had the highest total control cost, at EUR 8.6 million. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which applied such measures only for the first 28 outbreaks, had a cost of EUR 6.7 million. In Albania, where stamping out was never applied, the cost was EUR 5.3 million. There, affected animals were treated, and the government compensated farmers with imported livestock.

Of the more than EUR 20 million spent, the most expensive items were vaccinations, compensation to farmers for culled and dead animals, and – in Bulgaria – aerial fumigation.

The disease was reduced significantly in 2017, which can be attributed to the control measures, especially to vaccination.
The same cost–benefit analysis will now be used under another FAO project that aims to help prepare countries at immediate risk in Eastern Europe.

“The methodology enables them to evaluate what management strategy may be more cost-effective if the disease entered their territory,” Beltran-Alcrudo added.

Lessons learned will be translated to the development of a tool (i.e. guidelines and a spreadsheet) to guide countries on how to perform cost–benefit analyses for animal disease epidemics. This tool is currently under development and will be applicable not just to lumpy skin disease but to any animal disease, as well as to other livestock species.

The report “Economic cost of lumpy skin disease outbreaks in three Balkan countries: Albania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2016-2017)” is accessible on the Internet in English.

30 July 2018, Budapest, Hungary

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