Vet on call: We don’t need new laws to curb animal diseases

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Kakamega Agriculture Executive Peninah Mukabane vaccinates livestock against foot and mouth disease in 2013. The disease still remains a menace to livestock farmers today. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA

In the past few weeks, I have written much about the problems with our livestock disease control practices. This follows the current outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which is giving farmers a nightmare.

The disease should not be bothering farmers in this day and age. The other one is African Swine Fever (ASF). It has no vaccine but there are proven methods farmers can use to protect their pig herds from the scourge. These are mainly hygiene measures and strict movement control of pigs.

I continue to get calls from pig farmers especially in Nairobi, Kiambu and Kajiado lamenting the mass deaths of their animals due to what they call “a mysterious disease”. They report the pigs have fever, become sluggish and then stop eating altogether.

The bodies, especially the ears, the nose, the underside and the area below the tail become purplish. They are then unable to stand and finally die. In some herds, many pigs die at once. In others, the pigs die in small numbers at different times; within one to three weeks.

Many of the pigs have been diagnosed with ASF. The signs described by the farmers and paravet animal health service providers, the pattern of disease spread and the wiping of whole pig herds are highly indicative of ASF.

Last week, one paravet from Kajiado told me the disease was so frustrating that she was considering advising farmers to abandon pig farming totally. I advised her to report to the county veterinary services but she told me they were not helpful.

To add onto these experiences, the Livestock PS was reported last month saying that we need new laws to manage diseases in livestock.

He said Kenya is unable to export livestock products because of diseases but the proposed laws would help change the situation.

A farmer from Kirinyaga told me she found the statements confusing. “Would this be the reason then that we have this widespread FMD outbreak that is impoverishing us?” she asked.

LAW REFORMS

Professionally, I do not agree with these statements. We really do not need new laws to control livestock diseases.

What we need is a properly functioning, well-equipped and staffed Directorate of Veterinary Services. The directorate should also work closely and cordially with private veterinary service providers, supporting them with prompt investigative and diagnostic services. Law reform should only come in to fine-tune the running of existing animal health services.

Looking at my assertion in context, we need to review the evolution of livestock disease control. Kenya did very well in combating livestock diseases in the 70s and 80s.

Structural adjustments then came in the 90s, where the government delegated clinical services and artificial insemination to the private sector.

The delegation failed to put in place measures for strict government regulation of the private sector and collaboration in areas such as routine vaccination of animals and artificial insemination.

The government also heavily scaled down recruitment of veterinary service staff and therefore crippled key functions such as active disease surveillance and outbreak investigations.

Further, while government staff was to mainly carry out regulatory functions and disease surveillance, investigation and reporting, many of them still stuck to uncoordinated and unstructured treatment services.

This put them in direct competition and conflict with the private service providers. The end result has been strained relations between public and private animal health service providers and poor services to the farmer.

Nothing in the current laws can prevent or has prevented the country from controlling diseases. In fact, with the same laws in place, Kenya was able to eradicate the dreaded rinderpest and keep FMD, anthrax, black quarter, contagious bovine and caprine pleuropneumonia, among others, under check.

LACK OF CO-OPERATION

These diseases are now only coming back due to lapses in the control programmes and lack of co-operation, collaboration and coordination between the public and private sector players in disease control.

There is also a laxity in the advice that both public and private veterinary service providers are giving the farmers regarding serious diseases.

I have come across farmers advised not to vaccinate their animals against FMD if there is no outbreak or threat of an outbreak. Apparently, the advice aims at cutting the cost of production.

Regarding ASF, there are service providers, including veterinary doctors, who have advised farmers to sell their pigs for slaughter if they are struck by the disease. Such practice only serves to spread the disease.

The disease spread occurs in three main ways. The vehicles and people collecting the sick pigs will visit other farms and distribute the disease.

From the slaughterhouse, vehicles and people will be contaminated and they continue spreading the disease wherever they go.

Once the sick pigs are slaughtered, the meat will be sold to consumers. Bones from the meat will be fed to dogs, further contaminating the environment with the disease.

Under the current laws, we managed to control livestock diseases in the past and even eradicated rinderpest. What has deteriorated is the delivery of veterinary services both by the private and public service providers.

The principal secretary and his team should restore the proper functioning of veterinary services even as they seek to reform the livestock laws.