Animal Diseases / Biotechnology / Disease Control / East Africa / ECF / ILRI / Pastoralism / Vaccines

Masai herders buy vaccine to protect their cattle from lethal disease

Tanzanian Maasai helping to treat cattle against East Coast fever

Photo credit: ILRI / Mann

‘When asked about the success of vaccination against East Coast fever (ECF) in northern Tanzania, Dr Lieve Lynen, is remarkably modest. And yet more than 500,000 animals have been vaccinated against ECF in Tanzania since 1998, largely due to the work of Lynen’s pharmaceutical company VetAgro Tanzania, which has led the way in promoting the ECF vaccine in the region for over 15 years. As a result of this achievement and a successful vaccine registration campaign, coordinated by the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), veterinary authorities in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Tanzania have demonstrated renewed interest in vaccination as a means of ECF control.

‘Developed 30 years ago, the ECF vaccine has been shown to be a highly effective product, with a 95 per cent success rate in pastoral herds – one of the highest rates of protection offered by any livestock vaccine. However, up till now, governments in East, Central and Southern Africa have rejected widespread adoption of the ECF vaccine due to the complexity of delivering the vaccine, which requires the vials to be stored in liquid nitrogen. Administering the vaccine also requires training as the vaccine is administered in combination with an antibiotic to allow antibodies to ECF to build up without the disease taking hold.

‘Yet the vaccination programme in northern Tanzania has resulted in over 80 per cent of all calves vaccinated across many wards, protecting these animals for life against a disease which, in badly affected areas, is responsible for half of calf deaths. Achieving this kind of success in a remote area with a vaccine, which depends on a cold chain for delivery, and costs up to US$10 per animal, is remarkable. But in Lynen’s view, the success should be credited to two main factors: the efficacy of the vaccine, and the willingness of the Maasai pastoralists to pay for the vaccine in order to protect their herds and their livelihoods. “These are livestock keepers who know cattle and who know diseases,” she says. “They are willing to adopt a technology if it works – to commit themselves to a product where they see it gives them a future in livestock production.”

‘. . . . One vial of vaccine currently contains enough doses for 40 animals. In future, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which produces the vaccine, may look at developing a smaller vial of just five or eight doses, providing a more marketable product for private sector companies with an interest in setting up vaccination services.

‘Maintaining the production and supply of the vaccine is seen as the key challenge to widespread vaccination, and such private sector involvement is an essential component. GALVmed is currently putting vaccination delivery out to tender in the private sector; inviting bids that will be scrutinised by a panel of organisations, including the African Union/IBAR and Pan African Vaccine Centre, which is responsible for quality control of all livestock vaccines on the continent.

‘. . . The intention is that all aspects of vaccine production and delivery will be in private hands by the end of 2011. In the longer term, research is likely to focus on a new generation of vaccine that does not require the liquid nitrogen cold chain or the combined treatment with antibiotics.’

More . . . (New Agriculturist, Fighting East Coast fever – lessons from Maasailand, 2010 August)

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