Animal Health / Central Africa / Congo / Disease Control / Goats / ILRI / PPR / Sheep / Small Ruminants

A livestock plague is killing Congo’s goats and sheep

Goat in Goma

Goat and people share a road in Goma, DRC (photo on Flickr by Robert Guerra).

Voice of America is reporting on a new livestock epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The highly contagious viral disease is known as ‘peste des petits ruminants’, or PPR for short, sometimes as ‘ovine rinderpest’, and more commonly as sheep and goat plague.

‘The Democratic Republic of Congo is asking for help in controlling the worst outbreak of a livestock disease in the country in recent years. In Kinshasa an epidemic of ovine rinderpest is killing goats and sheep. . . .

[I]n one territory where figures were collected—Massima Nimba in Bandundu province—the authorities say about 25,000 goats have died of the disease and another 5,000 from infected herds have been slaughtered during the past six months.

‘The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s DRC representative, Diaga Gaye, says this is the worst livestock epidemic in more than 10 years in the country. . . .

‘Ovine rinderpest, also known as PPR, cannot be transmitted to humans. But it is serious for the population, says Dr. Lemba Mabela, the head of Congo’s veterinary service.

Dr. Mabela says goats are the poor man’s cows. And every financial problem the poor have, whether it Is a problem with the chief, or with the administration or a marriage problem, is settled with goats.

‘Ovine rinderpest was first confirmed in the DRC in 2008, although it had long been suspected. Experts at the veterinary service say as soon as farmers see the symptoms, which include diarrhea, a running nose and hair sticking up, they often dispose of the sick animals and drive the rest to other villages – spreading the disease.

‘The government has for the first time asked for FAO help with a mass vaccination campaign. . . .

‘“We have to combine vaccination and information and sensitization of people so that they understand there is no need to try to escape the disease simply by transferring animals from an infected area to a safe area,” Gaye said. “On the contrary, they will just contribute to disseminating the disease.”. . .

‘The government declared the epidemic only two weeks ago and is still discussing with the Food and Agriculture Organization what can be done. The FAO has agreed to contribute $500,000 for free vaccinations of half a million goats around Massima Nimba, starting next month.

The vaccine will cost about 50 cents per animal, but there are other costs, including transport, freezers and paying the personnel. The Food and Agriculture Organization says the $500,000 is just an initial response and much more funding will be needed.’

A 2011 editorial in an issue of the Veterinary Record, which included a comprehensive review of this disease, had this to say. ‘Until relatively recently PPR was considered to be a parochial disease of west Africa; however, its range is now recognised to affect most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as a swathe of countries from Turkey through the Middle East to south Asia with recent alarming extensions into north Africa, central Asian countries and China. Capable of causing very high mortality in susceptible goat herds and sheep flocks, PPR exerts a major economic impact on farmers and their families dependent on small ruminants. There is a growing appreciation that PPR is a most serious constraint to the livelihoods of farming families and to food security in affected countries and that its control warrants significant investment. An additional concern is the lethal nature of PPR infection in wildlife species, many of which are endangered or threatened, including gazelles and mountain caprines. . . .’

Jeffrey Mariner, who heads development of a thermo-stable vaccine for PPR at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), says a vaccine in production against PPR offers lifelong immunity but requires refrigeration, making it of limited use in remote Africa. Mariner is working on development of a vaccine effective at room temperature, which would significantly reduce the cost of vaccination and make it more accessible to more remote areas of Africa.

Read the whole article at Voice of America: Livestock epidemic spreading in DRC, 30 May 2012.

Read more about ILRI research to better control PPR on ILRI’s News Blog here.

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