Infectious disease continues to be the biggest cause of economic loss for livestock farmers.
At such a time during a pandemic when input costs are high and margins are being squeezed, losses due to culling, poor growth, variability, and treatment need to be minimised, if businesses across the region are to realise their full potential.
Poultry diseases often cause substantial financial losses to emerging commercial poultry farmers in rural areas across the East African region.
Although most farmers, through previous experience or service from a service provider, could have an idea or information on the causative agent responsible for the loss, many may never know the actual cause.
This is mainly due to the unavailability of proper diagnosis and limited knowledge, resulting in huge economic losses and negatively impacting their livelihoods.
Sadly, the same agent may repeatedly cause the farmer to suffer losses from one batch of birds to the next, until correct information and advice are provided.
In a country like Uganda where farmers have reasonable access to veterinary services or other service providers, such services might be limited by diagnostic support or infrastructure available in the country, whereas in other East African countries with limited diagnostic capability, identification and/or confirmation of the causative agent may take a long time, leaving the farmer powerless to respond to the loss.
Without proper diagnostic services, farmers are forced to opt for remedies that are neither indicated nor effective against the causative agent, resulting in further losses or unintended consequences.
This includes indiscriminate administration of antibiotics or other chemicals, hoping it will address the problem. Some of these ineffective remedies are also applied for conditions that are easily controlled using vaccines or by improving management practices.
Zoetis offer remedy
Animal health company Zoetis, having realised the importance of proper diagnosis to control disease losses amongst emerging commercial and small-scale poultry farmers in Uganda, partnered with RTC Lab in Makerere (COVAB) to set up a serology diagnostic laboratory to serve this segment of underserved farmers.
The laboratory, which was set up as part of a BMGF and Zoetis-Alpha supported project, provides tests on a range of poultry diseases with ability also to monitor vaccine efficacy against the same major poultry diseases.
The provision of serology tests aims to address and improve the efficiency and use of vaccines in the country. Immunity or protection conferred in an animal after vaccination is amongst others, influenced by correct handling, application, and the dosage of the vaccines.
The presence and level of appropriate antibodies in an animal or bird after vaccination points to correct administration of the vaccine and indicates that the animal or bird is protected against the causative agent.
Although a distinction must sometimes be made whether antibodies are a reaction to a vaccine or a field agent or strain, the presence of antibodies gives a good indication of protection. Serology uses blood to test the presence of antibodies.
Although the available tests will be limited in the beginning, it is a step in the right direction. First, it will improve the provision and access to animal health services by small-scale livestock producers. Secondly, it proves that a small-scale livestock producers’ market exists and largely remains untapped for animal health-related services.
The financial benefits of a better understanding of disease status, along with the advent of new serological diagnostic tests based on ELISA technology, has brought about a significant shift in the way diagnostics are to be used by poultry farmers and the animal health workers.
The role of diagnostics has expanded from disease management into business management.
While it is still a challenge for veterinarians and farmers to quickly utilise uptake of the lab services, it is expected that through rapid diagnosis, timely professional advice, and easy access to the laboratory services, small-scale livestock producers will reduce their poultry losses.
They will also improve productivity and this will also contribute to the overall mission of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industries and Fisheries of transforming subsistence farming to commercial agriculture.