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Donkey farmers decry Zoonotic diseases

By John Kuvuti

Livestock farmers across the Horn of Africa continue to battle trans-border zoonotic diseases or transboundary animal diseases (TADs).

Since the mid1990s the term transboundary animal disease (TAD) has become widely used for a group of major infectious diseases of livestock with important economic impact.

Such diseases are caused by pathogens that spread between animals and people thus affecting animals and farmers who move across borders for their daily activities.

They are also spread by contact between wild animals and domestic animals as they come into contact with each other during border crossings. Humans contact these diseases by interacting with animals in direct contact by handling an infected animal or carcass.

They affect equines as they are mostly used by the farmers to move from one place to another in transport of farm produce and fetching water especially in arid and semi-arid areas where water is scarce and farmers travel for long distances in search of the basic commodity.

The most common zoonotic diseases include; rabies spread mostly through bites by animals to humans; anthrax whose spores can stay active in the environment for years awaiting their next host.

Humans can contact anthrax by breathing in spores or eating and drinking food contaminated by spores and also through cuts and scrapes in the skin. Brucellosis spread through exposure to infected animals or contaminated animal products.

Zoonotic influenza virus which ideally mixes with other human viruses thus infecting both the donkey and the farmer.

The haemorrhagic fever spread highly through contact with an infected animal, Rift valley fever which is transmitted to humans through contact with the blood or organs of infected animals.

These diseases are very severe to both farmers and donkeys and cause serious socio-economic and public health consequences.

Measures to reduce and manage the spread of these diseases have been taken by various government and non-governmental organizations through vaccination of the farmers and donkeys against these diseases case by case surveillance, training and donkey clinic days; although more actions need to be taken to help control the spread and reduce possible human infections.

These zoonotic diseases reduce the production and productivity of donkeys especially in areas where the donkey is mainly used as a domestic helper hence gradually reducing the community’s productivity.

The infections and nutrition constraints play a big role in the spread of these diseases since most donkey owners are not financially stable with their highest priorities being to put food on the table as opposed to seeking veterinary services when the donkey is infected.

There are acaricides that are not recommended for use in donkeys since they cause allergic reactions which in turn have negative effects on the donkey. Many donkey owners however, do not have this information and hence more awareness should be created especially during donkey clinic days and training.

Measures to strengthen government policies to enhance animal research, data collection and training in regards to various technological developments have been put in place to help the donkey owners and local veterinarians fight these diseases.

However, more training and workshops should be put in place in partnership with experts in animal health welfare to see that more animal health assistants are trained and well equipped to handle infected donkeys and care for those in need of checkup.

Minimizing the movement of animals across borders is a measure that should be taken especially by the government by providing readily available local markets for the farmers’ produce and basic human commodities e.g. water so the farmer doesn’t have to travel long distances with their animals.

Vaccines and treatment should also be readily available at a subsidized cost for the donkey owners to afford.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has funded various researches to ensure working donkeys are getting basic animal health services.

Donkey clinic days should be well mobilized to ensure large numbers of donkey owners are aware. Veterinarians should also be well equipped with information and treatment equipment so they can efficiently help the donkeys in need on specific clinic days. There should also be availability of on-call veterinarians to assist injured and sick donkeys within a reasonable time frame regardless of the distance to respond to emergency cases.

More research and data collection needs to be done to have correct information on how exactly to fight these diseases when they are in the first stages of infection.

More scientific research needs to be done to ensure minimal reinfections and reduce the number of fatalities in both donkeys and farmers.

The Writer is the Veterinary Officer at KENDAT.

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