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Galvanising action against livestock disease

Newcastle disease is a common problem for commercial and smallholder farmers (WRENmedia)
Newcastle disease is a common problem for commercial and smallholder farmers

Whilst avian flu has attracted international attention during the past few years, it is only one of a multitude of diseases that seriously impact on poor smallholder farmers. Newcastle disease, for example, is a major constraint to commercial and village production of chickens. Like avian flu, it is caused by another highly pathogenic virus, and results in extensive losses to rural flocks in Africa and Asia.

Whilst vaccines are available for controlling Newcastle disease, a lack of effective delivery systems prevents many smallholder farmers in Africa from accessing affordable health care for their flocks. "Every year, farmers may lose up to half their herds and flocks to preventable diseases. These diseases not only impact on the local and national economy but keep livestock keepers in poverty," says Steve Sloan, Chief Executive of the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed).

Public-private partnerships

With these constraints in mind, GALVmed has recently launched three projects in East Africa focusing on Newcastle disease, East Coast fever and Rift Valley fever, which will forge links between public sector and private organisations to provide accessible animal health products which specifically meet the needs of poor livestock keepers.

Many pastoralist farmers lack access to affordable and effective vaccines (GALVmed)
Many pastoralist farmers lack access to affordable and effective vaccines

Control options for each of the three diseases already exist, including live or attenuated vaccines made from a weakened form of the virus. However, many of these deteriorate if not refrigerated and some vaccines, such as in the case of Rift Valley fever, may cause abortions or other side effects in immunized livestock. Baptiste Dungu of Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), a manufacturer of animal health vaccines, explains: "A big challenge with the Rift Valley fever vaccine currently used, for example in Kenya, is that it tends to cause abortion in a limited number of animals in early pregnancy. It is difficult, especially in rural communities, for farmers to determine whether or not an animal is pregnant, so livestock keepers are reluctant to use a vaccine that results in a drop in productivity."

Developing sustainable solutions

To address these concerns GALVmed, in partnership with African organisations, aims to provide a vaccine. One is currently being tested by the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI), which is safer, more efficacious and provides better protection than the vaccines currently available. GALVmed believes it is only through partnership with organisations such as OVI and OBP, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and AU/IBAR, that progress can be made in providing sustainable solutions to poor livestock keepers.

As Dungu points out, "Many of these diseases are endemic to Africa and are not of global importance. For multi-national companies, the market is too small and does not provide enough profit. For Africa, the only way to move forward is to come together as partner institutions, with government support, and make sure we do not only look at the profit but look at the benefits for farmers and other stakeholders involved in animal health services."

William Kalue, a smallholder poultry farmer (WRENmedia)
William Kalue, a smallholder poultry farmer

With Newcastle disease, the focus is not on providing a safer vaccine but on expanding the availability and affordability of appropriate vaccines, and promoting policies to support sustainable delivery systems. A regional consultation held in Nairobi in March 2007 identified private veterinary networks with village-based vaccinators as proven models for the sustainable delivery of vaccines and vaccinations. Training of communities to respond appropriately to poultry mortality was seen as essential.

Without training and understanding, many smallholder farmers believe that controlling disease is not an option. William Kalue is a poultry farmer in Kenya's Machakos district who rears pullets (young birds) for consumption and sale. Kalue receives no extension advice and he only buys medicine when the birds fall sick. And yet each year, during the rainy season, Kalue knows his flock is likely to be affected by Newcastle disease. Without timely treatment, he can lose up to 80 per cent of his birds.

The key to improving Kalue's poultry business, says Sam Thevasagayam, R & D Director for GALVmed, is to convince him of the cost-effectiveness of preventative treatment. "To pay someone to vaccinate his flock would cost him the price of one young pullet, around 100 Kenyan shillings (US$ 1.5). There is huge market potential here and we have to work with the local industry to make it happen."

Date published: May 2007


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