The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Business Reporter
THE Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development’s Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) chief director, Dr Josphat Nyika has reaffirmed that victory was certain if all stakeholders come together and continue to fight the war against January disease.
The January disease, also known as theileriosis is one of the tick-borne diseases that account for more than 60 percent of all cattle deaths recorded in the country annually. In Zimbabwe, January disease was common between December and March, however, cases are now being recorded throughout the year. Spread through the bite of the brown ear tick, the country has lost 500 000 cattle valued at about US$150 million, having died of the January disease from 2018 to 2022, according to reports.
Speaking at the Effective Livestock Disease Management Conference organised by Sunday News in Bulawayo on Friday, Dr Nyika said agriculture was the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy, with livestock being the spine of agriculture.
“Disease is one of the major limiting factors in any livestock production enterprise and without effective disease and pest control, there can be no cattle/livestock industry. No amount of supplementary feeding or genetic improvement of the herd can compensate for unhealthy animals as herd health is the cornerstone of a profitable cattle/livestock enterprise,” he said.
Giving history of theileriosis in Zimbabwe, he said the rinderpest outbreak in 1896-1898 decimated cattle population in Southern Africa and in 1910 East Coast fever (ECF) a cousin to Zimbabwe theileriosis was introduced due to the importation of cattle from Eastern Africa for rebuilding the national herd. Dr Nyika said in 1934 corridor/buffalo-related disease was recognised and in 1936 Zimbabwe theileriosis was recognised.
“The first dip tank in Zimbabwe was constructed in the year 1910 and by 1912 a total of 215 dip tanks were operational and today we have 4 099 communal dip tanks. This was necessitated after the introduction of theileriosis from imported cattle. Around the same time only three survived out of 1 000 cattle imported from Australia. Compulsory dipping of cattle in acaricide was made into law in 1914 mainly for the control of theileriosis transmitted by the tick vector (rhipicephalus appendiculatus),” he added.
He said in the country, the current epidermic started in 2017/18 and the Government, farmers and stakeholders have been fighting the disease since then and notable progress has been made in the fight. Dr Nyika said the last three seasons have witnessed a drastic reduction in tick-borne diseases cases and deaths by 47 percent, 39 percent and 23 percent respectively.
“Annual cattle mortality rates have tumbled from 12 percent, 9 percent and currently 6 percent. In Zimbabwe, it is specifically a disease of cattle caused by thelleria parva bovis while other circulating theileria strains include theileria velifera and theileria taurotragi,” he highlighted.
He said the disease runs a short course and kills cattle, while the symptoms included fever (shown by depression, listlessness and standing apart), swelling of lymph nodes (especially the one below the ear and the ones in front of the shoulder and the knee), decreased milk production, loss of appetite, watery discharge from eyes and cloudiness of the eyes, among others, as death follows three to four days after the first signs of disease. Dr Nyika said the disease has been reported in seven out of the eight rural provinces, save for Matabeleland North, while at peak, the disease has affected 38 districts and is now being reported in 14 districts of the country.
He said challenges that were affecting the fight against tick-borne diseases included poor tick control in the A1 and A2 sector due to poor handling holes or lack of dipping infrastructure, inadequate dip chemicals and homemade concoctions, while there was low cattle turnout at dipping sessions in the communal sector averaging around 78 percent among others.
He added: “Early detection and rapid response is important and treatment is highly effective if administered early. We encourage farmers to dip all (100 percent) of their and neighbour’s cattle at all dipping sessions. Also use an effective tick-destroying agent, check your dip wash strength and check dip chemical resistance (chop and change dip chemicals). Apply tick grease at tick feeding sites — ears, horn bases, under the tail, tail brush. Above all, but always do dipping, dipping, and dipping.”
The event was hosted by the Zimbabwe Newspapers’ Sunday News under the theme: “Reviving the Livestock Sector for Vision 2030: Tackling the Theileriosis (January) Disease.”