Fight against brucellosis translates into action in Georgia

FAO is helping Georgia to step up its efforts to halt the spread of brucellosis in livestock. 

Key facts

There are roughly 1.2 million cattle and nearly a million sheep, goats and pigs in the mountainous Republic of Georgia, providing a vital source of food and income to many of the country's 4.9 million people. Brucellosis is an all-too-common bacterial disease in a country that does a brisk business in livestock and dairy exports. The disease can cause decreased milk production, weight loss, abortions and infertility in infected animals, symptoms that threaten a vital source of food and income. The Government of Georgia has stepped up its efforts to tackle the disease, calling on FAO to help put in place a national strategy for brucellosis control.

Brucellosis has become endemic in livestock across Georgia, especially in the country’s eastern region. Infected animals shed the bacteria through their milk or reproductive discharge, which in turn can contaminate communal feed, pasture and water. Left undetected or untreated, the disease can spread quickly among herds or flocks. To make matters more difficult, brucellosis can only be accurately diagnosed by a laboratory test. That’s why preventive measures such as vaccinations, epidemiological surveillance, and proper husbandry practices are the key to curtailing brucellosis.

Now, Georgia is shifting into high gear and has begun implementing its national brucellosis control strategy. The FAO project, valued at US$ 280,000, is funded by the Georgian government, using financial resources allocated through the Comprehensive Institution Building (CIB) programme.

The disease has a long history in Georgia, according to Andriy Rozstalnyy, Livestock Officer at FAO's Regional Office in Budapest. "Brucellosis, unfortunately, was not managed or properly addressed in the past". Furthermore, agricultural reforms in 2005 saw the privatization of some of the country's agricultural land and services. As a result, there was a decrease in the number of people working for the Ministry of Agriculture and veterinary services.

Keeping the disease in check
Proper animal husbandry practices and sanitation, vaccines and veterinary support services − along with regular surveillance, accurate and current epidemiological information and greater awareness among farmers and consumers − can minimize the spread of brucellosis. These were issues taken up by FAO through a strategic intervention that helped lay the groundwork for a long-term brucellosis control policy in Georgia − and future investment from the Government and its partners.

A baseline assessment, organized by the project, identified priorities, gaps, bottlenecks and opportunities, while findings from the assessment formed the basis of a proposal outlining a control strategy, complete with a plan to carry it out.

A workshop and related training materials aimed to strengthen the capacity of the country's National Food Agency and other key institutions engaged in the livestock sector, and to equip them with the technical know-how to deal with brucellosis.

"We presented what other countries were doing to control brucellosis, the advantages, the disadvantages," said Rozstalnyy. "There is no perfect recipe. When switching from one strategy to another, countries need to base their decisions on a long list of factors, including the prevalence of the disease, farmers' awareness of transmission routes, animal identification systems and animal movement in the country."

Springboard for more resources
A Government-funded follow-up project zeroed in on developing and implementing the control strategy and drew on the expertise of multidisciplinary teams − veterinarians and epidemiologists as well as non-governmental organizations and universities − to get the word out about brucellosis and how to minimize the risk of infection.

"When countries have limited resources, like Georgia, and they use them for a project like this one, it's confirmation that the FAO’s project was useful," said Rozstalnyy.

Furthermore, the European Union has developed a sector policy support programme on agriculture, running until 2015, which focuses on animal health and food safety. It has also introduced a comprehensive institution building (CIB) instrument to help develop the capacity of Georgia's National Food Agency. With funding from the CIB programme, the National Food Agency contracted FAO to carry out the brucellosis inception phase, while a brucellosis control programme is expected to follow in 2014 and 2015.

"Brucellosis was quite bad in Georgia, but the country is making progress, investing its own money and increasing the number of people working on it. It's on the right path, but it will take a lot of time, effort, patience and commitment from the Government," added Rozstalnyy.

Healthy animals for healthy lives 
Together, these efforts, which FAO helped set in motion, are contributing to overall improved animal health. And, in turn, they are helping revitalize Georgia's livestock sector so that it is more vibrant and competitive − good for the country's food security and economy. 

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