SOUTHERN AFRICA: Watchful Eye on Deadly Stock Disease

  • by Deodatus Mfugale* (dar es salaam)
  • Inter Press Service

Bakari says vaccination of animals against PPR, as peste des petits ruminants is usually known, and strict controls on movement of livestock - especially on market days - had done the trick.

'The disease, also known as Small Ruminants Plague, was first reported in Ngorongoro district of Arusha region in January and February last year, during which time about 376 animals died,' he said.

One and a half million goats and sheep have been vaccinated, with the intent of covering around four million animals by the end of the campaign.

The disease poses no threat to humans, but can wipe out an entire herd during an outbreak. PPR spreads easily from animal to animal, so a key part of the strategy has been to prevent infected ruminants from mixing with healthy ones while grazing or watering them.

Speaking from Arusha, veterinarian Dr Moses Ole Neselle, who works with the Simanjiro Development and Conservation Trust in the Manyara region of northern Tanzania, said proper testing and formal recognition of the presence of PPR had been delayed - hampering awareness and prevention by herders.

'The disease has been in Tanzania for quite some time but we have not been courageous enough to acknowledge its existence for economic reasons.'

Neselle said the disease broke out in Loliondo in 2009, after pastoralists from the Turkana region of Kenya settled in the area following prolonged severe drought in the neighbouring country.

'From Loliondo it spread to Simanjiro, Handeni and some parts of Kilmanjaro region before we could control it through bloc vaccination,' he said.

He, for one, takes the warning from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization that the disease could spread into the Southern Africa region seriously. The World Animal Health information Database website bears him out, reporting 800 cases - more than 200 animals dead - in Loliondo in February 2009, with another 139 deaths from 539 reported infections in nearby Soitisambu village.

Were the disease to spread south from Tanzania, it could threaten more than 50 million sheep and goats in a region which has never experienced this particular disease before.

'We have taken all measures to check the spread of the disease,' said Neselle, 'but pastoralists move a lot and sometimes their movements cannot be controlled and so they take the disease to other countries. In fact last year Southern African Development Community countries discussed the disease at length, including what measures countries should take to contain it.'

In Malawi, which borders Tanzania to the south, Chief Animal Health and Livestock Development Officer Levison Allidu is watchful but unconcerned for the moment.

'When we heard of the outbreak we sent our officers to Kyela district in southern Tanzania which shares boundary with Malawi and they assured us that there was no cause for alarm because the disease has not been detected so far south,' Allidu said.

But recent experiences with swine fever may illlustrate reason to stay alert. Livestock officer Jacob Mwasinga says swine fever detected in Tanzania three months ago crossed into Malawi through the illegal transportation of pigs or pork. People frequently cross the border using uncharted routes.

'There is no effect [from swine fever] for people who eat meat from infected animals... apart from the fact that they become carriers of the disease and can easily pass it on if they enter a pig sty or come into contact with pigs,' says Mwasinga.

This is what happened to Inkhosana Nkhambule, in Mzimba district. Nkhambule was concerned one day to find 15 of her 50 pigs having difficulty walking.

'I was not too surprised; I thought they had fought amongst themselves. But come morning, I discovered 15 dead pigs.'

The following day, 20 more died. Nkhambule - who has raised pigs for more than 30 years, relying on them for an income - headed for the veterinary offices in Mzuzu.

'They told me it was swine fever and that it had no cure apart from restricting the movement of pigs which is difficult in the rural areas where we live, because we have nothing to feed the pigs.'

Three days after noticing the first pigs in difficulty, Nkhambule's pig had been wiped out. Mwasinga says her case is not an isolated one.

'In Karonga and Chitipa districts which border Tanzania about 6,000 pigs have died. There is no vaccine, but we bar the transportation of pigs or pork,' he said.

'But we have not been successful because the disease is now here in Mzimba district, about 225Km from Karonga.'

*Collins Mtika in Mzuzu, Malawi contributed to this report.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service