Scientists step up war on pig flu

pigs feedingKalanzi Daniel is a small scale pig farmer from Busabala a suburb neighboring Kampala. In mid 2014, Kalanzi lost 8 out of his 12 pigs to the endemic African Swine Fever threatening his only source of livelihood since he relied on the piggery project to provide school fees for his two primary going children.

Under intense panic and fear, the father of two sold off his remaining 4 pigs that were also showing signs of fever. All this, the farmer confirmed that was done to rescue some funds from his treasured venture not knowing that he was endangering other farmers’ investments. After the ordeal, he sought the services of a local veterinary officer who confirmed to him that his pigs had been infected by the lethal African Swine Fever (ASF). As he would later be advised by the Veterinary officer, other pig farmers who came in contact with the infected pork meat could have endangered or even faced similar sad scenario like his.

There are many farmers in Uganda who have had similar experiences like Kalanzi. The ASF which has now become endemic in Uganda is taking a toll on many especially the small scale farmers. However, due to the fact the piggery sector is poorly monitored by policy makers, many of these cases are not reported to the concerned authorities and therefore undermining its’ containment. This makes piggery a very risky investment because the viral fever is lethal and can wipe all herds’ within24-48 hours. It’s this sad tale of events that has seen more efforts from researchers and players in the sector step up their efforts in curbing the spread and intensity of the virus within Uganda.

The researchers pooled from ILRI and CGIAR started out their efforts in Masaka area in an initiative aimed at being adopted country wide. The two day meeting brought together pig value chain actors in Masaka District to review and identify measures of preventing the spread of ASF. The researchers have considered the fact that most of the research efforts to understand the dynamics of how ASF spreads in pigs has focused on producers, even though there is evidence that actions by other actors in the pig value chain especially traders, transporters and butchers also play a role in spreading the disease.

The ILRI Uganda team, led by Michel Dione, held key informant interviews with local government officials, the veterinary department, local councils and executive committee members of pig cooperatives in Masaka. 

The team also conducted focus group discussions with pig producers, feed and drug stockists, veterinary officers, traders, transporters and butchers from Kyanamukaaka, Kabonera, Kyesiiga, Buwunga and Bukakata subcounties in the district. These studies aimed to identify hotspots for ASF transmission and spread along the entire pig value chain and feasible protective measures to reduce spread of the disease.

Participatory discussions brought to light practices that may have increased the risk of spread of the disease such as pig producers selling off their pigs in a panic when outbreaks occurred to avoid losses. In addition, traders and transporters said that high costs of sourcing and transporting pigs to markets necessitated use of ‘brokers’ who traverse several villages, from farm to farm looking for suitable pig stocks for purchase and therefore acting as potential carriers who spread the virus.

According to a study titled Prevalence of African swine fever virus in apparently healthy domestic pigs in Uganda, prevalence of ASFV in slaughter pigs was 52.96 percent. The study also found out a high sero-prevalence of ASFV in apparently healthy slaughter pigs and also a high proportion of ASFV sero-positive pigs in surveyed districts in Uganda.