The Sunday News
MY interaction with livestock farmers in other provinces has revealed that while stock theft and diseases of economic importance are a serious challenge in Matabeleland region, some areas in Mashonaland provinces are reeling under the devastating effect of a tick-borne disease.
The disease is called theileriosis or commonly referred to as January disease.
The pathogen which causes theileriosis is called theileria and the common one that affects cattle is theileriaparva.
This pathogen is transmitted by ticks and hence it is called a tick-borne disease.
The aim of this article is not to go scientific on the disease but to point out that serious strategic thinking and intervention is needed to contain this disease, if anything to protect the national herd and farmers’ investments.
The disease has almost wiped out some herds in such areas as Hwedza, Mhondoro and other areas in those regions.
The disease has a very rapid progression which makes the mortality rate to be around 100 percent.
This means almost all the animals that are affected die with very little chances of survival.
Just this past week an outbreak of the disease was confirmed in some part of Makoni district in Rusape and the area in now under quarantine. I therefore appeal to relevant authorities to activate all systems that can be used to fight this disease and contain its spread.
It is not far-fetched to project that considering our relaxed livestock movements across districts and provinces, it won’t be long before we register a case of the disease in Matabeleland region and we start counting the losses.
Needless to say we will feel the pain more primarily because cattle is our main livelihood with very little coming from crop production.
Also we are already burdened with the foot and mouth disease which is endemic in our region. It is imperative therefore for the responsible authorities to take decisive and strategic action that will ensure that the disease is not exported to other regions but contained and managed from the endemic areas.
Being a tick-borne disease the primary control method is regular dipping with frequencies as high as weekly even during seasons of low tick loads.
However, this method tends to fail because ticks develop resistance to the acaricides used for dipping especially if they are not rotated.
Also in our difficult economic environment it is not easy for Government to provide adequate acaricides which can ensure regular dipping hence the dipping becomes erratic thereby providing a fertile environment for the ticks that transmit the theileria pathogen.
It is important to note that regular dipping breaks the complex life cycle of the vector which is the tick and hence halt transmission of the pathogen. Therefore irregular dipping allows the tick to grow through its various stages of the life cycle and eventually infect your cattle. Vaccinations against the disease can be done although these are not yet very common among farmers. Also the vaccine has to be kept frozen until just a few minutes before administering into the animal. This makes it not very easy to administer by farmers who are in remote areas. In my view, full and protracted education about the disease and its management needs to be provided to farmers. Most importantly farmers need to be advised against relying only on Government provided acaricides for dipping their animals. While Government will strive to provide the acaricides and it should, farmers should be ready to bridge the gap if Government fails.
While livestock mortality results in a reduced national herd farmers should realise that for all intents and purpose the loss is personal and hence the need to protect your investment as an individual farmer. Theileriosis is a serious disease that can easily wipe your herd.
It should thus be taken seriously and all measures instituted by both the farmer and Government to prevent livestock losses.
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