Ciru and Ciku are your typical small-scale farmers. They both live in Keringet, Nakuru Country in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Ciru is a small-scale vegetable farmer and a trader while Ciku, like most women in the village, combines farming with rearing indigenous traditional (kienyeji) chickens.
Some of Ciku’s chickens do not survive yearly disease outbreaks. It is now an accepted way of life for her. However, the last few months have been good and her flock steadily increased to 40 chickens of various ages.
However, one winter morning, she noticed that the chickens appeared to be a bit sluggish and had not taken their feed and water. As usual she thought nothing of it. The following day, she noticed some of the chickens had nasal discharge, greenish diarrhoea and appeared to be dancing around. Later that evening, she consulted her friend Ciru about the problem.
They called the district veterinarian the next day to see what could be done. Unfortunately, the district veterinarian was away attending a county East Coast Fever vaccination campaign and was not due back until three days later. By the third day, Ciku had lost 30 of her chickens and the remaining ones were very sick and appeared to be twisting their necks – the classical symptom of the fatal Newcastle disease!
Later in the market that evening, the women heard a village school teacher advising the locals to vaccinate their poultry to protect their chickens against the contagious disease. They were told about a local extension officer in Keringet who had obtained a certain vaccine known as the ND I-2 vaccine and vaccinated some household chicken flock – protecting about 60% of the village flock.
Ciku’s story is one of many in African communities. More than 70% of livestock producers in Africa are located in small villages with seasonal access roads and poor infrastructure. Agrovet shops are few and far between and animal health drugs, when available on weekly markets days, are of questionable quality. Most villages have at least one resident extension livestock officer, or veterinary para-professional (VPP), referred to locally as daktari, similar to the one who helped vaccinate chickens against ND in Keringet. These VPP’s are often poorly motivated and ill-equipped, especially to deal with disease outbreaks. However, they are the front line contacts for most livestock farmers on disease matters. And although they are not veterinary doctors, VPP’s play significant roles in extension education, disease surveillance and diseases management. What is required is structured training, proper certification and effective supervision to ensure that VPP’s can provide basic animal health services to prevent the kind of losses sustained by the likes of Ciku.
This blog post is part of a series discussing the importance of veterinary para-professionals to poor livestock keepers in Africa and South Asia. The first African veterinary para-professional conference with a continental focus will be held from 13-15th October 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa. The event is co-hosted by the OIE and GALVmed.