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Development of the New Zealand strategy for local eradication of tuberculosis from wildlife and livestock

Abstract

We describe the progressive development of New Zealand's national strategy for control of tuberculosis (TB) in its agricultural sector over the last four decades. The strategy is globally unique, reflecting the need for effective and co-ordinated management of TB in a wildlife maintenance host, the brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), in addition to controlling infection in cattle and farmed deer herds. Since the early 1990s, the strategy has been developed by the Animal Health Board (AHB), formed to empower the farming industry to take the leadership role in funding of TB control, policy development and administration. The AHB became the first non-government organisation to develop and gain acceptance by the funders (farming industry and government) of a National Pest Management Strategy (NPMS) under the Biosecurity Act 1993. A key outcome of the NPMS for TB control was the development and inclusion of very challenging objectives that provided direction for management, research and possum control. This paper describes the process whereby the NPMS was revised twice, following achievement of each successive set of strategy objectives within budget. Success was based on firstly, reorganisation of the AHB and its operational systems to achieve increased efficiency; secondly, improved efficiency through contracting possum and disease control, and thirdly research delivering effective and practical applications, while also providing a scientific basis for setting directions for future control strategies. The last revision of the NPMS was implemented in 2011, and included objectives to eradicate Mycobacterium bovis-infected wildlife populations over 2.5 million hectares by 2026. This ambitious objective was adopted only after extensive forecast modelling enabled stakeholders to identify and select the most cost-effective long-term solution for the management of M. bovis-infected possum populations. The accomplishment of New Zealand's TB control programme, in meeting successive sets of demanding NPMS objectives, has seen a 95% decrease in the number of infected cattle and deer herds since they peaked at 1,694 in 1994, and the eradication of TB from infected possum populations from 830,000 hectares. Provided the current level of funding continues, New Zealand is positioned to achieve national eradication of TB well in advance of the 40–50-year timeline forecast 3 years ago.

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