South Sudan: biggest livestock vaccination underway

Keeping animals alive and healthy to hold hunger at bay

A cattle keeper with his animals in Lulwuot, South Sudan. ©FAO/Albert Gonzalez Farran


The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is embarking on its biggest ever livestock vaccination campaign in South Sudan, aiming to protect over 9 million animals this year to combat increasingly frequent outbreaks of diseases.

Why focus on livestock?

Over 65 percent of the population relies on livestock for their survival. Milk, meat and blood are essential sources of protein and other nutrients. As South Sudanese farmers put it: here, cattle can chase away hunger.

“The cattle are so important to me. I use them to work on my farm, and to fertilize the farm. My children rely on the milk. If we have enough cattle, we can sell some to buy other essentials,” says Kiir Mawein, a 30-year-old cattle keeper from Aweil, in the country’s north-west.

No choice but to resort to bush medicine

“But we have so many diseases here. One of my animals has been sick. The diseases spread fast here; I’m afraid my other animals will also get sick. When my animal got sick, I used some bush herbs because there are no drugs here. But it didn't help. The animal lost weight, and now it has stopped eating. I'm afraid it will soon die," adds Kiir.

A young boy milking his cow. ©FAO/Albert Gonzalez Farran. Community-based animal health workers vaccinating cattle in Aweil. ©FAO/Lieke Visser

In rural areas, when animals fall sick, cattle keepers have two choices: feed them with bush medicine, or walk into town for veterinary drugs.

The trip often takes several days. Often, there are no veterinary drugs or they are too expensive. And so, most cattle keepers resort to bush medicine.

“We all have cattle here - some a few, others thousands - but there are no services. When animals get sick, they just stay like that. Last year, I lost 105 cattle. I knew what diseases they had, but had no drugs,” recalls Lual Deng Luol, a community-based animal health worker trained by FAO.

Vaccination at work

Kiir and other cattle keepers gather their animals and walk to the vaccination site, a few kilometres from their village.

At the site, Lual and his colleagues stand ready, equipped with vaccines and vaccination supplies provided by FAO.

The owner leads his cattle into a fenced passage where the animals get vaccinated.

A cattle keeper gets his animal ready for vaccination in Aweil. ©FAO/Lieke Visser

One by one, the cattle get through. Some look visibly underfed, weak; others can’t be vaccinated as they are already sick. A trained veterinarian examines these animals, and if possible, treats them with the drugs available on site.

“Without the cold chain, we can’t do our jobs”

“I’ve been working with FAO for seven years. First, I learnt how to vaccinate the animals. Then, I got more training so that I can recognize and treat diseases… It is hard work,” says Lual. 

On vaccination days, Lual and his colleagues start at 6 am to catch the cattle owners before taking their animals to graze and the heat sets in. The country battles with high temperatures all year around; the average is 30°C, but it can climb to 45°C during the hottest months.

“Most of the time we move by car but sometimes we have to walk. We carry the cold box with us. Today, we brought the vaccines by plane from Juba. From Aweil, we brought them here by car and stored them in the only fridge in this area. Without the cold chain, we can’t do our jobs,” explains Lual.   

FAO has trained over 1,000 community-based animal health workers to carry out routine check-ups and vaccinations. The cold chain stores over seven different vaccines for the most common diseases.

South Sudan: biggest livestock vaccination underway in the country’s greatest times of need

This has significantly improved the delivery of animal health care as well as preventive and emergency vaccinations.

FAO is also working to restore the livestock diagnostic laboratory to full capacity with support from the Government of Japan. This will improve laboratory diagnosis of diseases and make the response timelier and more efficient.

What’s next?

FAO urgently requires $13.1 million to carry out its full vaccination campaign and respond to the recent outbreak of Rift Valley Fever. To date, FAO has only enough funds for a third of its vaccination campaign, and has received no funding as yet for its Rift Valley Fever response.

Rift Valley Fever, which can be transmitted from animals to humans, poses a significant public health threat. Resources are needed to contain the spread and strengthen early warning and surveillance systems.

As part of its vaccination campaign, funding permitting, FAO would not only cover vaccination and treatment costs but train also more community-based animal health workers; help maintain existing cold chain hubs, and set-up new ones in remote areas.

This would help address major setbacks when delivering animal health care services and medicines: distance, limited cold chain facilities, dirt roads that become inaccessible during the rainy period, and lack of animal health services.

FAO's work in South Sudan is possible thanks to support from: Canada, Denmark, European Union, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Norway, South Sudan Humanitarian Fund, Switzerland, UK, USA, World Bank.

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