Peste des petits ruminants (PPR): developing a pan African strategy for disease control

Owning livestock is like money in the bank for African farmers, but major diseases significantly threaten these assets. Among these are Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR); or small ruminant plague - a viral disease primarily affecting sheep and goats.

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Small ruminants like sheep and goats are recognised as ready sources of food and cash across sub-Saharan Africa, often relied upon by women and disadvantaged households.  These animals are an important species for communities recovering from disasters, such as drought or loss of livestock through civil disturbances and war. Because of their lower cost, families use small ruminants to start rebuilding herds. Small ruminants are more readily marketed than large ruminants and are often used to meet cash flow needs such as school fees and health care.

Small ruminants are also an important protein source and are often slaughtered for home consumption as large ruminants cannot be consumed by the family before spoilage. Small ruminants are an important source of milk and milk products in many cultures, especially for children. Also, in systems where livestock is the predominant product, small ruminants are often marketed to purchase cereals to complete the diet.

PPR is a major threat to the livelihoods of these smallholder farmers in Africa. For instance, a recent PPR outbreak in the Turkana District of Kenya destroyed the livestock asset base of 65% of the households. The estimated annual loss of income from livestock as a result of the PPR outbreak in this region was estimated at USD 2 million1.

The impacts of PPR have been rapidly expanding in recent years. It is now an important disease across sub-Saharan Africa and has extended south as far as Zambia. Currently, there are concerns that it will continue to spread further south in Africa. PPR has been known to present in the Middle East and South Asia for over two decades. In recent years it has spread as far as China.

Vaccination is the only viable control mechanism for PPR given the high mobility of animal populations. PPR control will require large numbers of vaccinations mainly in remote areas. A vaccine that does not need refrigeration (ie. thermostable) and more effective models for vaccination that harness public-private-community partnerships will be needed to ensure effective control.

How will the project contribute to research and development for Africa?

This project will develop appropriate and proven PPR vaccination strategies that can form the basis of sustained PPR control in developing countries. The project team are developing an effective protocol for a thermostable PPR vaccine for transfer to African vaccine manufacturers, potentially impacting millions of smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa.  A vaccine currently exists for PPR; however this vaccine requires cold storage which is a major constraint for use in Africa.  It is often impossible to keep vaccines cold when travelling large distances in rural areas; and electricity failures even in urban areas means use of the current vaccine constrains control activities.

The project will go beyond technology development to identify and test components of new institutional models for delivering effective PPR control services to small ruminant producers in two locations in Eastern Africa.  This activity is essential to assuring that the technology developments of the project lead to impact that benefits farmers. This activity will be completed in close collaboration with international and national animal health authorities to assure strong ownership of the results. The process will start with design of vaccination programs fit to specific epidemiological goals. The project will then work with national authorities to see the programs implemented and to assess the effectiveness and impact of the approaches.

Research partners

The research is implemented by the BecA-ILRI Hub, in partnership with African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resource (AU-IBAR), national veterinary services, private service providers and community representatives, building effective ways to deliver the vaccination programs that achieve their objectives.

Key partners in the process of developing effective PPR control packages include international agencies such as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the UN_Food and Agriculture Organization and their allied morbillivirus reference laboratories. Specifically focusing on vaccine, the AU-Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Center and vaccine producing laboratories will have a significant role in the production and quality assurance of the final product.

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Reference:

1 Oxfam and FAO-ECTAD, 2008 

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