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Vaccines boosting defenses against deadly livestock disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)


21 September 2012 - Vaccination teams have fanned out across Masi-Manimba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to vaccinate goats and sheep against peste des petits ruminants. As increasing numbers of animals are vaccinated, however, FAO and the veterinary services are underlining that keeping strict controls on animal movements is equally important to prevent PPR from spreading to unaffected areas.

With FAO support, national and provincial veterinary services in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have just completed the first phase of a wide-scale vaccination campaign in the province of Bandundu, where more than 100 000 goats and sheep have died from peste des petits ruminants, or ‘goat plague,’ since outbreaks were first reported in May.

More than 177 000 animals have been vaccinated in the areas of Masi-Manimba that had as yet remained unaffected by the disease, to protect sheep and goats from peste des petits ruminants (PPR). PPR can have extremely high mortality rates in unprotected livestock, and in the DRC, where a few goats serve as a savings bank on legs for vulnerable families, the loss of those few animals can mean desperation. Milk and meat from sheep and goats provide dietary protein and a source of income for many vulnerable households in the Congo, and if ever there is a major expense, such as medical treatment or school fees to pay, the Congolese typically sell animals for needed cash.

As part of an emergency Technical Cooperation Programme project, FAO is providing support to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to combat peste des petits ruminants, which has spread widely across central and northern Africa, but hasn’t yet affected a large swathe of southern Africa. The goal is to vaccinate 500 000 goats and sheep by approximately February 2013. Teams of 20 vaccinators and 5 supervisors have successfully stepped up the number of vaccinations administered each day to about 4000 animals, moving systematically from village to village in Masi-Manimba to ensure blanket coverage and essentially enclosing the virus outbreaks inside a ring defense of animals protected by vaccines. In this way, virus outbreaks eventually die out, since the vaccinated livestock can better fend off the disease.

The FAO and the national and provincial veterinary authorities, however, have underlined that while the vaccinations provide a robust defense against PPR, it is equally important that movements of sheep and goats from one village to another are strictly limited, to prevent further spread of the disease. Uncontrolled movements of livestock continue to be the major risk of bringing sick animals that carry the disease to flocks that are healthy, thus continuing the spread of the PPR virus.

The emergency programme has also focused on disseminating information about PPR and what steps need to be taken by communities to protect their animals. The information campaigns have spread the word especially via the strong tradition of rural radios in the DRC. In addition, teams have been traveling to villages to meet with community elders and religious leaders, who serve as important sources of information in villages.

In the DRC, more than 70 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar per day, and due to ongoing conflicts especially in the eastern Congo, 1.65 million people have been displaced from their homes.

 


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