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New initiatives take aim at livestock disease in Nigeria

Evidence-based interventions set to improve health and productivity for cattle, sheep and goats in Africa’s most populous country

By Vanessa Meadu and Ciara Vance

Udder of Cross Bred Dairy Cow, Nils Teufel ILRI
Udder of Cross Bred Dairy Cow, Nils Teufel ILRI

New initiatives backed by the Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI) Programme at the University of Edinburgh, have set out to tackle two major diseases undermining the productivity and health of Nigeria’s livestock.  The initiatives bring together researchers and partners from Nigeria’s government, public and private sectors to move forward on interventions for the reduction and control of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and mastitis. Previous research supported by SEBI had identified these diseases as being of particular concern in Nigeria due to their impact on the health and productivity of cattle, sheep and goats.

Livestock health and productivity is a serious concern in Nigeria. A symptom of this problem is a ‘dairy dilemma’, which sees the country importing over two-thirds of its milk, a sign that local production cannot keep up with demand.

“In Nigeria, we need evidence-based interventions that are backed by real-time and representative data to tackle diseases and reproduction losses in ruminants,” said Dr Muhammad-Bashir Bolajoko, a veterinary researcher and epidemiologist of the National Veterinary Research Institute in Vom. “The new interventions on FMD and mastitis are important step towards boosting ruminants’ productivity and thus improving local production of milk and meat,” he said. Research shows that foods of animal origin offer a vital source of nutrition, particularly for vulnerable groups like children and sick people. These important interventions come at a when Nigeria strives to attain the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Improving the response to Foot and Mouth Disease

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease of cattle and other livestock.  It produces ulcerative lesions on the mouth and hoof areas, severely reduces milk yields, and can be immensely damaging to international trade.  Nigeria, like many other Sub-Saharan countries, especially in West Africa, has been increasingly affected by FMD as a result of lack of appropriate, tailored control programs. The main obstacle for effective prevention and control of FMD in Nigeria has been the availability of high quality and affordable vaccines that are accurately selected and matched to the circulating virus strains.

Led by Dr Frans Van Gool, SEBI will support and work in collaboration with the Nigerian Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) in the design, production, registration and use of commercial FMD vaccines with strains specific to Nigeria. The goal is to facilitate FMD experts and leading vaccine manufacturers to improve vaccine efficacy, safety and quality.

“We hope that this research collaboration will improve and better target vaccines to match the virus strains affecting Nigerian livestock,” said Dr Baptiste Dungu, a SEBI consultant who will work closely with Dr David Shamaki, Director and Chief Executive of NVRI.  Working in collaboration with the Pirbright FMD reference laboratory and other African FMD vaccine manufacturing laboratories, the project will contribute to initiating a strategy that will inform effective FMD control programs through vaccination in the country.

Tackling Mastitis through education and best management practices

Another major disease affecting livestock is Mastitis, an inflammation of udder tissue. SEBI studies have found Mastitis to be a significant problem in Nigeria. To date, few studies have aimed to determine the occurrence of mastitis in Nigeria, but a recent literature review initiated by SEBI showed a prevalence of clinical and sub-clinical mastitis between 32% to 66% in cattle and 45% to 85% in sheep and goats.

Mastitis severely limits milk production, inhibits weight gain, and causes increased abortion and mortality. This leads to major losses, and treatment can be very expensive. The World Health Organisation recognises mastitis as a public health concern, as the bacteria responsible for mastitis can contaminate milk that humans consume, causing several clinical diseases. Mastitis is also currently the most common reason for antibiotic use in livestock, so new approaches for tackling this disease will provide the additional benefit of reducing antibiotic use in dairy cows. This will contribute towards national and global efforts for reducing anti-microbial resistance (AMR).

Preventing dairy cattle mastitis through better management practices

Over the course of the coming year, SEBI will provide training to farm owners and their employed workers, to encourage them to practice measures that reduce the incidence of cattle mastitis in dairy cows. An easy-to-use mastitis prevention training tool will be developed with local dairy experts, targeted at the large population of the rural farmers who own the bulk of the livestock population in Nigeria. The tool will consist of an engaging animation video that will provide clear and easy to follow examples of good on-farm practices. The aim is to have the it further disseminated by NGOs, government departments, veterinary surgeons, milk processors, dairy co-operatives and farmer groups.

As well as Nigeria, the SEBI team will aim to test and refine the training materials for dissemination in Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. They will be able to monitor progress and impact on mastitis through somatic cell counts in milk, which are an indicator of immune response to a mastitis-causing pathogen.

Another way to reduce mastitis in dairy cows is through good udder hygiene. A non-antibiotic approach for killing mastitis-causing organisms is by dipping udders or teats in iodine-based solutions to disinfect the skin. SEBI is working with local partners in Nigeria to import and distribute these solutions, as there is currently no local market for teat dips.

When a cow has become infected and antibiotics are inevitable, precision approaches for applying antibiotics can help reduce the amount needed. As part of the Nigerian pilot project, SEBI will help to imported and distributed intrammamary antibiotic tubes that offer more efficient and precise antibiotic use.

Nigeria to trial Blue Udder mastitis vaccine in sheep and goats

A separate set of vaccination interventions will also be piloted in Nigeria. The Blue Udder vaccine – named for the colour of mastitis-affected udders – targets two specific bacterial strains that are most common in sheep and goats. Despite its mainstream use in South Africa it has not been used before in Nigeria. In a pilot project, the vaccine will be used with 300 farmers in two regions: Jos and Niger.

The planned pilot interventions in dairy cattle and small ruminants will start just after the rainy season (beginning of October). The objective of these interventions is to show smallholder farmers how to reduce the incidence of mastitis in their livestock and to produce safe, wholesome and good quality milk by applying some simple and inexpensive preventive measures.