The Transboundary Animal Diseases Programme hosts a unique, strategic facility designed to enable work to be conducted safely on highly contagious diseases of animals, particularly foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). It commenced operation in 1984 and has since established an international reputation as the most sophisticated FMD laboratory in Africa and one of the leading facilities in the world. It presently houses an Office International des Epizooties (OIE) reference centre for African swine fever (ASF) and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
The facility has a wide range of sophisticated biological and engineering containment measures in order to prevent the escape of viruses. It is unusual in that it was designed to provide a diagnostic and research facility as well as a plant for vaccine production. Most other FMD laboratories around the world are either exclusively diagnostic/research institutes or vaccine production plants.
Because of the uniqueness of the FMD virus types prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, much of the research conducted elsewhere in the world is not relevant to southern Africa. The TADP staff has therefore attained pre-eminence in the study of the epizootiology of SAT-types of FMD virus, especially in relation to wildlife. An extensive bank of virus strains was build up over the years, and the ability to characterize them by means of RNA sequencing and monoclonal antibodies allow the selection of vaccine strains uniquely suited to niche markets with particular problems.