Goat keepers are recording new cases of a goat disease traditionally confined to pastoralist areas, which is now spreading into other areas including Central and Eastern province, causing a slump in goat prices, by as much as 75 per cent, and prompting the building of a new vaccination facility.
The disease, scientifically known as Peste des petits ruminants (PPR), or plague of small ruminants, threatened to wipe out large swathes of livestock in North Eastern in 2006-2008, when 5 million animals predominantly goats and sheep were infected with 50 per cent of them dying.
The disease also threatened food security in these areas where the population is predominantly pastoralist and relies on livestock for food and income. Aggressive and concerted efforts between government and organisations such as The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) greatly reduced cases of new infection. But the gains are now being reversed due to pastoralist migrations with the spread being attributed to close contact between infected and the non infected small ruminants.
Areas in Laikipia and even Kieni in central Kenya have now recorded new cases of the disease, whose immediate symptoms include lassitude, fever, discharges from the eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, laboured breathing and diarrhoea. Farmers rearing the goats have already recorded sever business impacts, with the majority of their goats either dying or the farmers being forced to dispose of the goats at cheaper prices since buyers are wary of the disease.
Muthoki Kihekia, who has reared livestock for a decade in Laikipia, says he has always managed to sell his goats for Sh3000 to Sh4000 when they are in good health, but the goats are now selling for as little as Sh1000, a fact he attributes to buyers flight to safety. “No one wants to buy goats, because they hear that the outbreak of the PPR disease has never been fully been addressed. When we sell them due to lack of pasture, it’s like we are disposing of them, because they attract a very low price,” said Muthoki.
Victor Lomde, another seasoned herder from Turkana District has never recovered from the 2006 plague that claimed 300 of his goats in three months. He, however, made a resolve to have all the remaining livestock vaccinated.
“My veterinary surgeon has taught me a lot. This vaccine works wonders, it’s like the vaccine they give children to prevent them from Polio. Once you have it, you are covered. There have been pockets of outbreaks since 2007, but I can comfortably say that I haven’t recorded any deaths any more.”
The disease, which typically claims the life of the infected ruminant within a month, can easily be contained through frequent disease prevention and control interventions. The PPR vaccine provides protection for about three years for small ruminants.
The spread of the disease, which until recently was considered to be a parochial disease of West Africa, has received international attention, with the FAO recently announcing that its member countries, Kenya included, had passed a resolution shifting the attention of the organisation from rinderpest, an equally notorious and fatal disease among cattle, to the goat disease, after declaring rinderpest eradicated globally.
This followed an announcement in May that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) at its General Session had passed a resolution to the effect that all countries in the world had been formally accredited as free from rinderpest, which had previously been a huge menace to cattle.
As part of the call by FAO to member states to address the plague in their respective countries, the Kenyan government is working on building a KARI vaccine production centre, which will increase the capacity of producing the PPR vaccine with the hope of improving the flock immunity from currently less than 30 per cent to 70 per cent, and reduce annual losses related to the plague by at least 60 per cent by 2013.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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