The Centre for Ticks and Tick Borne Disease (CTTBD) in Malawi is now successfully producing the first batch of East Coast fever (ECF) vaccine, also known as the Muguga Cocktail. Because of this, there is now greater opportunity that exists for more effective control of this ravaging livestock disease in the “warm heart of Africa” and other countries in which ECF is endemic. The vaccine as such is not new, but its successful production at an African Union (AU) institution in Malawi is a milestone to be acknowledged and celebrated. Apart from the technical complexity of production, there were many other institutional barriers that GALVmed and other partners have been addressing to make this production a reality. Thus, the launching of the vaccine is a milestone – a bridge crossed. But now there are other bridges to be crossed in order to make this vaccine accessible to poor livestock producers. One of these is marketing and distribution of the vaccine to those who need it.
When writing about the challenges of access to animal health products for poor livestock producers in Malawi based on a scoping study, I observed that 90% of livestock in Malawi is in the small-holder systems based in remote villages and locations with poor access to infrastructures and without access to cold chain facilities. In addition, these farmers are poorly organised and lack access to organised markets and sufficient awareness of information and training in animal health practices that could transform their practices into income-generating ventures. Most of them have solely continued keeping livestock as a means of food for their households rather than to also generate money.
In order to take full advantage of the availability of the ECF vaccine, it is necessary to mobilise all resources to promote improved access to markets and information. The challenges to achieve this are not trivial. The technical issues around vaccine pack size and cost of goods are being addressed by relevant institutions. For too long stakeholders who have aimed to provide services to small-scale producers have been working in an uncoordinated and disjointed manner, thus duplicating efforts and wasting scarce resources.
The African lesson of strength in unity of purpose should now be invoked again particularly in the animal health and agriculture sectors. This will require more focussed efforts in public-private partnership. Governments, scientific think-tanks and private business innovators should work together to develop strategies that promote access to animal health solutions for people for whom livestock is a lifeline. The results will be improved vaccine production practices, improved access to high quality nutrition and improved child and maternal health. These outcomes will contribute to the attainment of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of the chronically malnourished and hungry by 2015, while also improving livestock productivity. It will be then the CTTBD-produced ECF vaccine and other animal health products will have truly impacted African society. I look forward to celebrating this milestone.