By Prossy Nandudu and Apollo Mubiru
Poor hygiene and lack of adherence to the set livestock movement limitations are the main drivers of recurrent Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the country.
A major FMD outbreak was first recorded in Uganda in 1953 and since then, the disease has been recurring, with the recent outbreak reported in December last year.
According to veterinary experts, the disease is easily spread through the movement of sick animals from one place to another, and this is worsened by the mode of transport – the trucks – that carry the cattle from one place to another.
Dr Nicholas Kauta, a consultant veterinary doctor, formerly the director of crop resources in the agriculture ministry, said during the transportation of livestock, sick animals pass on the disease to others.
“While transporting the animals in trucks, grass is put in to prevent the cows from falling off while in transit. In the process, animals urinate and also pass out dung onto the grass in the truck.”
In case one of the animals is suffering from FMD, transmission to other animals becomes easy. Whatever comes out of an animal suffering from FMD, like milk, urine, meat, dung and saliva can easily spread the disease,” he explained.
Kauta attributed the recurrence of FMD in the country to the lack of a proper system for checking vehicles that transport animals.
“Ugandans continue transporting animals by force even when there are regulations in place. They move at night. So, when government ringfences some areas for vaccination against the disease, some people still move animals, thereby defeating the purpose,” Kauta said.
He added that even when the movement of livestock is contained, products from animals, like milk and meat can still be smuggled from diseased areas to other places, hence transferring the disease.
When it comes to hygiene, Kauta said most of the trucks are washed in the same water sources from where cows drink, which further complicates the containment of the disease.
In addition, Kauta noted that farmers tend to ignore quarantines, messages that the agriculture ministry keeps issuing, yet quarantines are meant to contain the spread of the disease within the affected areas.
The agriculture ministry said over 30 districts are affected by FMD among them including Apac, Amolatar, Bugiri, Bushenyi, Butaleja, Hoima, Iganga, Jinja, Kabale, Kaberamaido, Kaliro, Kamuli and Kamwenge. Others are Katakwi, Kasese, Kibaale, Kiboga, Kyenjojo, Mbale, Masindi, Mayuge, Mukono, Namalemba, Nakapiripirit, Pallisa, Rukungiri, Sironko, Wakiso and Soroti.
Although prevention becomes hard when the disease has already spread, Kauta explained that the recommended measure is to ensure that 80% of all cattle are vaccinated.
Uganda has about 16 million head of cattle; implying that at least 12.8 million animals should be vaccinated.
According to Kauta, vaccination should be supplemented with a bi-monthly vaccination exercise for at least five years, a move that will ensure that even the newly born livestock are vaccinated to prevent the recurrence of the diseases.
“The recommended vaccination rate to prevent the spread of disease is 80%. If you vaccinate 80% of your cattle, you can break the transmission rate,” Kauta pointed out.
However, the five-year vaccination programme is likely to be derailed by the limited funds from the finance ministry, which has led to the importation of smaller doses of vaccines whenever there is an outbreak.
“A strong vaccination programme means vaccinating for five years, consistently, such that every five to six months, you are vaccinating the younger ones. If vaccination doesn’t happen, there will be a new population of young livestock that can easily spread the disease,” Kauta said.
The above plan should be supported with the creation of FMD-free zones that are fully equipped with control measures like limited movement of cattle, trucks that ferry cattle, and feeding places, among others.
To manage the current outbreak, agriculture minister Frank Tumwebaze said the ministry will need $176m (about sh671.8b) annually to procure 88 million doses of FMD vaccines if Uganda is to ably fight the virus.
However, only 2.3 million doses have been ordered and are yet to arrive in the country.
According to Tumwebaze, the ultimate goal is not only to control, but to eradicate the disease through mandatory bi-annual vaccination of all susceptible cloven-hoofed animals like cattle, goats, sheep and pigs.
Global, regional outlook
According to a 2022 study done by Tania Prinsloo, a lecturer in informatics at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, FMD occurs in over 100 countries worldwide, mainly in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America.
Over the past two years, there have been outbreaks in countries including Mongolia, Russia, India, Israel, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
In 2013, India had the worst outbreak in a decade, with over 64,000 animals infected and 6,100 deaths. The main cause of the spread was that animal movements were not being effectively monitored.
To curb the spread, countries restrict the movement of livestock. But this can be a huge blow to the economy. South Africa, for instance, produces around $145 million worth of exported red meat annually.
Outbreaks will, therefore, also affect Namibia, Botswana and Eswatini who rely on South African meat imports. There is another less-economically damaging way of controlling FMD – the use of a traceability system.
According to Prinsloo, the systems have been used effectively in Namibia to map out areas that need to be quarantined and to manage the movement of livestock.
The system tracks animal movement, identifies all animals uniquely, monitors animal health, assists in disease control and manages feed. Because it is efficient, traceability is now a requirement to export meat to the European Union and the US.
Besides Namibia, other southern African countries like Eswatini and Botswana also use national livestock traceability systems. This electronic system enables officials to determine where animals are coming into contact with other animals and then impose a quarantine on the affected areas.
Solution to challenge
The long-lasting solution to managing FMD is through developing a vaccine. To increase the availability of FMD vaccines in the country, Tumwebaze told Parliament last week that through the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO), the vaccine development process is underway.
“When the evaluation of the candidate vaccines comes out successful, NARO will be authorised to carry out trials to determine the efficacy and safety. If this level is also successful, government will further support NARO to produce for mass rollout,” Tumwebaze said.
His revelation was backed by Dr Justus Rutayisire, the FMD vaccine co-ordinator at NARO.
Rutayisire said NARO is developing a vaccine, but that it is still at laboratory level. For the country to access and make use of it, he said this will happen at the end of the financial year 2025/2026.
Tumwebaze yesterday told Parliament that NARO requires sh80b for the production of FMD vaccines.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa asked legislators to support the minister’s proposal since they are still in the budgeting process.
Tumwebaze revealed that farmers would pay $5 (about sh19,000) for the vaccine starting next year. The work on FMD vaccine development at NARO is being done jointly with researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute, Makerere University and the National Reference Laboratory, revealed Prof. Frank Norbert Mwiine, the principal of the Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine and team leader for FMD research.
Mwiine revealed the development in an interview on the sidelines of the Global FMD Research Alliance, which was attended by researchers and veterinary doctors in FMD at the Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala recently.
He said different methods of managing FMD include the Eliezer, a test that detects and measures antibodies in the animal’s blood and the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, which gives accurate diagnosis of certain infectious diseases and genetic changes.
Mwiine noted that there are seven FMD types, although there are six types left in the whole world today. In Uganda, the common FMD types are Sat 1, Sat 2 and Type A.
“The last one (Type A) is commonly found in buffaloes, making it easy to transmit it to domestic animals, like cattle and small ruminants,” observed Mwiine.
According to Kauta, there is a need for advanced measures of managing borders between countries, but also between livestock and wildlife.
He gave an example of Botswana and Namibia, where government has erected electric fences, that keep off wild animals from crossing over to livestock and vice versa.
For Uganda, Kauta said this is yet to happen because borders between wildlife and livestock are still porous. UVA president Daniel Kasibule said FMD should be managed through a multi-sectoral approach.
“It means working with politicians, technicians, farmers and leaders at all levels.”
Kasibule said through this approach, there will be consensus on the number of vaccines to import based on the challenge at hand as opposed to carrying out piecemeal purchases.
“Today, we are talking of importing 10 million doses of vaccines, yet there are 16 million head of cattle. Such small amounts of vaccines will not vaccinate all the cattle for the country to attain at least 70% immunity,” Kasibule noted in a telephone interview.
He asked government to rehabilitate and equip cold chain storage facilities for vaccines countrywide.
“Most districts are faced with frequent power fluctuations, and some lack working fridges, making it hard to keep vaccines in the right conditions. It’s high time government considered solar-powered cold storage options for vaccines to help districts with irregular power supply keep vaccines in the right conditions.”
He also wants the transportation of vaccines addressed, adding that most vaccines are currently transported in ice using motorcycles, which ice can easily melt along the way and render the vaccine ineffective.
In Ibanda, one of the most affected Ugandan districts, authorities formed a task force of nine people, who will work with the district security team under the office of the Resident District Commissioner and veterinary department to ensure that quarantine rules are followed.
Dr Hilary Arinaitwe, the district veterinary officer, said there was a ban on the slaughter of animals for now.
“If we make good progress within the next three weeks, I will consult the agriculture ministry on the possibility of reopening the sector for business,” Arinaitwe said during a stakeholder meeting at Ibanda Municipal Council Hall last Wednesday.
In September last year, governments of Uganda and Tanzania signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in which the two countries agreed to carry out joint vaccination of livestock as a control measure against FMD.
Apart from disease management, the MoU will enable the two countries to tap into the booming beef export market.
During his meeting with President Yoweri Museveni on the sidelines of the Group of 77+China at the Speke Resort Munyonyo on January 20 last month, Botswana’s president Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi pledged support towards the fight against FMD in Uganda by developing a vaccine.
“Your Excellency, we met some cattle farmers yesterday and they told us that they would want our assistance. I did promise them that we are dealing with the foot and mouth problem and we are producing the best vaccine in Botswana. What makes our vaccine unique is not just its efficacy; we produce it for purpose. We would like to come and look at the blood samples of your herds in Uganda and we create the vaccine,” Masisi told Museveni.
Proposing a bilateral programme for comprehensive collaboration, President Masisi envisioned a government-to-government partnership to address the challenge.
He further assured President Museveni that their needs and potential, with Uganda’s remarkable 16 million head of cattle, align perfectly with Botswana’s expertise in veterinary drug therapeutics.
Effects on economy
According to the agriculture ministry permanent secretary, Maj. Gen. David Kasura Kyomukama, Police and the Internal Security Organisation should enforce the quarantine in affected districts and if this is not done, the disease outbreak will spread to other areas and get out of control, thus devastating the country’s livestock sector.
He said the presence of FMD limits Uganda’s ability to access major export markets, and her performance in the global export trade in livestock and livestock products will be negligible.
“Without swift and resolute actions, it will become difficult for export markets to trust our animal products again and even when we have resolved the FMD problem,” Kyomukama said. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the FMD impedes trade because countries that have the disease get stigmatised.
Disease outbreaks increase the cost of animal production, and reduce milk and beef yield, cattle sales, farmers’ incomes, and enterprise profitability, according to a study on the economic effects of FMD outbreaks along the cattle marketing chain in selected study districts in Uganda.
Respondents to the study were selected proportionally using simple random sampling from a sample of 224, 173, 291, and 185 farmers from Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Isingiro and Rakai.
The study was done by the former president of the Uganda Veterinary Association, Sylvia Baluka and was in 2016 published by the National Library of Medicine, a global biomedical library.
Farmers with small and medium herds incurred higher control costs, whereas large herds experienced the highest milk losses. The total income earned by the actors per month at the processing level was reduced by 23%.
“All actors along the cattle marketing chain incur losses during FMD outbreaks, but smallholder farmers are most affected,” the report stated.
It suggested that control and prevention of FMD should remain the responsibility of government if Uganda is to achieve a disease-free status that is a prerequisite for free movement and operation of cattle markets, which will boost cattle marketing. FMD symptoms
FMD is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals. The virus causes a high fever, lasting two to six days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness.
Other FMD symptoms include loss of appetite, reduced milk yield, and lameness with the presence of painful lesions on the feet, making the animal uncomfortable and causing it to lose weight.
What farmers say
Frank Buhonda, a farmer from Ishongororo within Ibanda, challenged the stakeholders to work as vigilantes in their respective areas to ensure that no one flouts the quarantine guidelines, saying farmers are the first line of defence against the spread of animal diseases like FMD.
“We shouldn’t wait for the authorities to enforce the quarantine restrictions. Let’s put in place footpaths at our farms and control access. We must work together and act against those breaking the rules for the good of the majority and to protect the industry,” he said.
Patience Katunge, a farmer from Bisheshe division in Ibanda, called for strong enforcement measures, saying there was laxity in enforcing the restrictions, which has exposed the safe areas to FMD infections.
Elias Kaijuka, a farmer in Bugarama, Rukungiri district, said:
“Some people slaughter goats in the bushes and deliver the meat door-to-door and to restaurants. This shows a big loophole in the enforcement of the quarantine rules, which these people are exploiting to put the community and the livestock sector at risk.”
Kaijuka said corruption among enforcement officials was compromising efforts to stop the spread of FMD.
Boaz Katunda, the chairperson of cattle traders in Kakatsi within the Bisheshe division, said farmers who move animals and graze in other people’s land in the villages or along roads in towns were a risk factor and should be stopped forthwith.
Fake FDM vaccine
The National Drug Authority (NDA) has in the past warned against fake vaccines on the market.
The authority spokesperson, Abiaz Rwamwiri, recently said: “The NDA, through post-market surveillance, has discovered fake and unauthorised FMD vaccines that include Purified Fotivax FMD inactivated vaccine and National Veterinary Institute FMD broad spectrum vaccine on market. These products have not undergone NDA’s approval processes and, therefore, we can’t guarantee their safety, quality or efficacy.”
He reminded the public that the FMD vaccines are solely procured and imported by government through the agriculture ministry and distributed by the district local governments through the district veterinary offices.
NDA called upon the public to remain vigilant and report anyone suspected to be involved in drug-related crimes on their toll-free line 0800101999 or WhatsApp line 0740002070.