Joy is a tough thing to bottle. To me, this photo, taken by my friend and colleague Dr Victor Mbao goes some way to encapsulating it. It shows the first moments in which liquid nitrogen was produced at a small laboratory in Lilongwe, Malawi – CTTBD, a lab which is having its official launch today.
“It was like a miracle to see the first spurts and coughs of liquid nitrogen at the end of a pipe going into one of our containers.”, Victor recalls. “The joy in members of staff was palpable. I knew this was the beginning of the journey to reducing the cost of production and delivery of CTTBD’s core product – ECF vaccine. Before then, nitrogen used to be shipped in from Zambia at great cost and inconvenience.”
The nitrogen is needed to store the vaccine and as CTTBD’s Acting Director, Dr Nkhwachi Gondwe-Mphepo shares, its arrival meant “…immense relief! No more sleepless nights as to when and where to get liquid nitrogen.” Nkhwachi smiles: “I felt like jumping up and down for joy! Like the rest of the CTTBD staff, I could not believe the problem of liquid nitrogen was now in the archives.”
It matters so much because the one-shot-for life vaccine protects cattle against ECF. This is a disease that kills or reduces the productivity of millions of cattle across many African countries, impacting the lives of individuals, families and communities that rely on their livestock for the basics and to fuel their initiatives, enterprises and dreams.
Pictured here wearing a protective glove (the liquid Nitrogen being more than 300 times colder than a household freezer), QA Technician, Mr Kennedy Senzamanja said “That’s one small step for the CTTBD liquid nitrogen plant, one giant leap for the African ECF region!” To my (non-technical) mind, the development of vaccines is rocket science. The Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its forerunner, the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD) researched, developed and produced this Muguga cocktail ECF ITM vaccine. Many African and international organisations have been part of the vaccine’s story with the baton now passed to the team in CTTBD.
Kennedy’s analogy is also borne out by the personal stories I’ve been told in sub-Saharan Africa by livestock keepers of ways in which the vaccine has transformed their lives. They speak of their cattle surviving, the size of their herds growing, an increase in income enabling them to pay for education and healthcare. Pastoralists point to very costly dams built on the proceeds of their cattle to prepare for times of drought, to dispensaries, vehicles and children being put through school and some to university.
Joy is a tough thing to bottle, but in the hands of everyone striving to make, distribute and deliver this vaccine, it is a cocktail that also includes big measures of hope, choice and dignity for millions of people.