Goat plague flares again igniting fear of epidemic

A highly infectious viral disease that kills sheep and goats within a month of striking has hit West Pokot county claiming over 300 livestock and fueling swift action to prevent an epidemic on the scale experienced in 2006-2008 when 5 million animals were infected with 50 per cent of them dying.

The disease, scientifically known as Peste des petits ruminants (PPR), or plague of small ruminants, is believed to have originated from Ethiopia, moved to Turkana by cross border trade before spreading down to Pokot through animal trade.

Government officials from the Ministry of Livestock has launched a 30 day vaccination exercise to all livestock with the hope of arresting any further spread. In Kerio Valley of Pokot district for example, the government is vaccinating more than 150,000 livestock to contain the spread.

“However the major challenge we are encountering is that our neighbouring districts don't carry out the exercise on time and when animals migrate from one area to another, chances of the disease spreading are high,”said West Pokot District Veterinary Officer Dr William Kibet.

The immediate symptoms of the disease include lassitude, fever, discharges from the eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, laboured breathing and diarrhoea.

The disease, which has traditionally been common in low regions of the country, has been controlled through vaccination before the start of the rains when it becomes more prevalent.

However, the spread of the disease beyond the pastoralist regions in 2006-2008 to Central and Eastern province caught scientists and livestock farmers unawares. The disease which caused a slump in goat prices by as much as 75 per cent, saw government swing into action by building new vaccination facilities.

The disease was ultimately contained in these areas after livestock farmers heeded to the vaccination advice insulating their livestock from the disease for at least three years. But the constant movement of livestock in North Eastern province has largely hampered vaccination and prevention efforts.

“Think of this animal business like the daily exchange of money. Buying and selling of goats and sheep from Ethiopia happen so fast here, and with the limited number of veterinary officers an infected livestock has sneaked in before you know it. And not forgetting it will be interacting with the others the spread becomes hard to contain,” says Dr. Kibet.

The spread of the disease, which until recently was considered to be a parochial disease of West Africa, has also 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.

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