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Agency starts mass animal vaccination in Makueni

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

Between March and May, Makueni county, just like most parts of the country, experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall. The rains left a myriad challenges, among them a huge number of livestock health problems caused by waterlogged soils. Hundreds of animals in poor farming households in the county were affected and some succumbed to diseases as a result of the floods.

To mitigate these effects, an international non-profit animal welfare organisation, World Animal Protection (Wap), recently embarked on a monthlong mass vaccination, treatment and deworming of the animals.

Judy Kimaru, Wap’s Africa disaster operations manager, while leading the team of doctors during the launch of the operation, said targeted animals were mainly domestic animals including goats, sheep, cattle, donkeys and dogs, which were vaccinated against worms, ticks, fleas and mites.

The planned total reach, according to Kimaru is 210,000 animals by the end of the campaign. Starting early this month, mobile clinics have been set up in disaster zones across the county, with emergency response teams meticulously working out how to reach as many animals as possible. The teams of veterinary officers are providing much needed vaccinations and treatment for the livestock.

A farmer watches as his donkey is marked after being vaccinated. Photo/BETTY MUINDI

Kimaru says the county relies heavily on agriculture to make ends meet and in this critical situation, the recovery from floods by mitigating its effects will provide stability for their future.

“This community depends largely on livestock for their livelihood — transport, food and security. 

When disasters strike and the animals are not put in the equation, the people suffer,” she says.

During the vaccination operation, which is being conducted in partnership with the University of Nairobi and the Makueni County Department of Veterinary Services, the team of veterinarians and Wap staff were overwhelmed by community members wanting to share their stories of devastating effects of the rains to their animals.

Patrick Muleli, a farmer in Kaseve sub-location whose 14 goats had been infected by a severe viral infection known as Contagious Ecthyma (orf) or scabby mouth that causes abrasions on animal skin, especially the mouth, could not hide his agony.

The infection is not common in the area and his herd of goats were the only ones affected by the disease, which according to veterinarians is synonymous with wet areas. “I have never seen this disease my entire life, neither have my neighbours. The infection started at the onset of the rainfall in April after my mother bought an ailing goat from the market and it spread the disease to the entire herd. Now I have been forced to herd my goats away from the neighbour’s goats, so that they too don’t catch it,” he explained.

The goats are Muleli’s only source of living, “I have a wife and two children to feed and take care of. We fully rely on these goats for milk, meat and we even sell them. I will be devastated if I lose them,” he lamented.

Dr John Muthee, a veterinary lecturer from the University of Nairobi who attended to the goats, said the disease, which occurs mostly in goats and sheep is normally self-limiting, and clears without treatment within a few weeks. He said it could only be fatal if infants are infected, but rarely so.

Muleli’s case is just one among many other cases that were diagnosed by the veterinarians. Other cases including pneumonia, wounds, lumpy skin disease, severe chest infections, abscess, mastitis and foot rot were also diagnosed during the exercise.

The University of Nairobi, in partnership with Wap, came up with a Veterinary Response Unit in 2010 consisting of veterinary students trained to respond to disasters effectively. This is the team that conducted the vaccination operation in Makueni.

The animal protection agency has worked in disaster zones for years and has been ramping up efforts to convince the government and the global humanitarian community that protecting animals should form a crucial part of aid efforts.

“Saving human life must be the priority, but the animals that people depend on for their livelihoods should come a close second,” said Kimaru. She said it is important for the government to support such initiatives with finances, training and in kind (provision of drugs and equipment) to make the operations more effective.

Flagging off the campaign earlier, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana acknowledged that this is a noble initiative and emphasised on the need to ensure secure food production through promotion of veterinary services, disease control and best practices in animal production.

He said the county’s agriculture department is aiming at supporting food security in the county, a high percentage being livestock, which is the main source of food in the county. “Without animals, families lose one of their main sources of income and are often left with no way to rebuild their live; that is why losing animals can hinder our economy’s growth,” said the governor.

The treatment and vaccination exercise is a follow-up of one that was conducted last year where thousands of dogs were vaccinated against rabies. Makueni county has one of the highest rates of rabies in Kenya. The county government has mobised all its officers for the vaccination campaign being undertaken at designated points.

Vaccination for poultry against Newcastle and infectious diseases begins this week.

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