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New laboratory will advance Nigeria’s fight against ‘cattle plague’

Mycoplasma laboratory at Ilorin University will support routine diagnostic testing of economically important diseases.

Ilorin University officials visit the new Mycoplasma laboratory on 9 July 2020
Ilorin University officials visit the new Mycoplasma laboratory on 9 July 2020

by Mike Christian and Vanessa Meadu

Nigeria has a new weapon in its campaign against livestock diseases that have crippled livelihoods nationwide. On 9 July 2020, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Ilorin University opened its new Mycoplasma diagnostics laboratory sponsored by Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI). The new facility will allow improved surveillance of a range of harmful diseases caused by Mycoplasma bacteria, including Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP), one of the three great cattle plagues, according to the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health).

In SEBI’s recent survey of livestock disease in Nigeria, CBPP (which affects cattle and water buffalo) and Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP) (affecting sheep and goats) were were highlighted by farmers and veterinarians as high priority diseases for control. Both cause severe respiratory disease in cattle and small ruminants, resulting in reduced productivity and often death. These diseases have led to severe economic losses for livestock-keepers already facing disturbances due to civil strife, climate change and COVID-19.

CBPP is of particular concern due to its widespread presence in the northern part of the country – a recent study by Dr. Isaac Olorunshola and colleagues recorded a prevalence rate of just over 56%. Until now, accurate monitoring for CPBB has been a challenge due to the disease’s long incubation period of 1-4 months. Routine testing done at the new Mycoplasma diagnostics laboratory will support better identification and tracing of carriers and epidemiological groups. It will also improve knowledge of disease prevalence and provide preliminary data on the choice of possible control methods.

SEBI is working with Dr Olorunshola and the University of Ilorin to set up and to carry out surveillance for CBPP in Kwara State by serology and by isolation of this difficult to work with organism.

“The Ilorin laboratory enables scientists to track diseases within a region so that targeted treatments and control can be applied,” explained SEBI Director Professor Andy Peters of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School for Veterinary Studies. “We’re now aiming to commercialise a CBPP vaccine in Nigeria,” he explained.

Ilorin University opened the new Mycoplasma laboratory on 9 July 2020
Ilorin University opened the new Mycoplasma laboratory on 9 July 2020

In spite of pandemic restrictions and a staff strike at Ilorin University, the laboratory has now set up the diagnostic procedures and protocols. The lab has already cultured a number of different Mycoplasma including the causative organisms for CBPP (Mycoplasma mycoides), CCPP (Mycoplasma spp) and the OIE listed avian mycoplasmosis.

In addition to diagnostics, the laboratory will be useful for new collaborations in animal and human mycoplasmology. The University hopes the lab will be designated as an OIE Reference Laboratory, giving official recognition to the specific advanced work taking place.

“The laboratory will also be very useful in training, teaching and empowering our undergraduate and post-graduate students,” said Professor Mikhail Olayinka Buhar, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (Research, Technology & Innovation), University of Ilorin. “On behalf of the Vice Chancellor, I appreciate funding of this project. The University support for this collaboration agreement is absolute and we shall continue to provide the necessary infrastructure for the laboratory as our counterpart support,” he said. 

SEBI acknowledges the invaluable expertise of Professor Robin Nicholas in the support of this project.

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Mike Christian is a consultant project manager with SEBI. Vanessa Meadu is the SEBI Communications and Knowledge Manager.