CTTBD: Supporting African led solutions towards sustainable livelihoods in the livestock sector
By: Keith Bohannon, Member Development Officer at Scotland Malawi Partnership
Photo captions (l-r): The CTTBD ready for its launch on Friday 5th December 2014; Dr Hameed Nuru of GALVmed opening the CTTBD launch.
Having grown up in rural Ireland, I am very aware of the importance of agriculture to local communities, particularly in terms of providing livelihoods and stimulating economic activity. In many developing countries this reliance on agriculture is much more pronounced. For example in Malawi, as is the case for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, almost 80% of the population live in rural areas and survive with very limited resources as subsistence small-holder farmers.
In such an environment where many households keep livestock such as cattle, goats and chickens, maintaining healthy animals can have a huge impact on the sustainability of the people’s livelihoods. This in turn has a huge impact on the opportunities available to members of the household in term of both health and education, particularly women and children.
At the Centre for Ticks and Tick Borne Diseases (CTTBD) launch today I learned that East Coast Fever (ECF) is the single biggest killer of cattle in Africa, killing more than 1 million cattle in the continent every year at an estimate cost of $260m in the east central region alone. Luckily there is a vaccine, in the form of the Muguga Cocktail vaccine. The challenge however is getting this vaccine to the people who need to access it most, where significant barriers exist in terms of access, cost and administrating the vaccine.
Based in Lilongwe the CTTBD is a centre for excellence for veterinary medicine and the only place in Africa that produces the ECF vaccine. The centre not only makes the vaccine but also provides training and support for its distribution and the development of new disease control techniques. Under the auspices of the African Union, in partnership with Scottish-based organisation GALVmed, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Government, the CTTBD is truly an example of a global partnership enabling a Malawian-based centre to meet Africa’s needs.
At the launch we were joined by a host of VIPs and delegates, all gathering to give a strong endorsement to the important work of the centre. While it was great to be present to witness such an event I can’t help but reflect that the true impact of the centre will only start after all the formalities are over. After the speeches and presentations, what we are left with is a real example of mutually beneficial partnerships, which have resulted in an African-owned, and African-run centre, delivering tangible solutions towards sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment to the region. This truly is something to celebrate.
CTTBD: Reinforcing the business model
Photo caption: Hon Dr Allan Chiyembekeza, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Malawi cuts the ribbon to mark the official launch of Centre for Ticks and Tick-Borne Disease, Malawi. Hon. Dr Bright Rwamirama, State Minister for Animal Industry, Uganda and H.E Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union look on.
The Centre for Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases was officially launched on Friday 5, December 2014. The centre is currently producing the Muguga cocktail East Coast fever vaccine, which will be distributed to up to 11 countries in Africa.
Everybody I have talked to seems to read from the same script. It’s been a long journey for CTTBD to get where it is today, to be able to launch itself as a centre of excellence for vaccine production and training for young scientists in Africa. There have been a lot of challenges along the way. But also, everyone I have spoken to is optimistic about the future of CTTBD. Why? Because there is so much business potential for CTTBD and many hopes riding on the ECF vaccine. And with a deadly disease ravaging parts of East and Central Africa, threatening millions of livelihoods, the vaccine uptake may not be as big of an issue, but rather meeting the demand.
While giving an overview of the vaccine production at the Centre, Dr. George Chaka, the vaccine production manager at CTTBD mentioned that a vaccine batch takes up to 18 months to produce. Science is a slow process and CTTBD wants to make sure that the quality of their vaccine is very good. But just as science cannot be rushed, death waits for no one (or animal for that matter).
Now that it has been launched, CTTBD has been put to task to meet the market demand. No doubt support from the consumer side was demonstrated by the number of people who attended the launch. Three ministers from countries that are potential customers, together with various heads of departments of veterinary services and a host of other dignitaries were there to witness the launch. Both ministers from Kenya and Uganda assured CTTBD of their countries’ support. It means that for CTTBD, it will not be business as usual. Certain gears have to be engaged to ensure a smooth process from production, marketing and selling of the vaccine, to make sure that their end users have a continuous supply of the vaccine.
That is why GALVmed CEO Peter Jeffries said during the launch that we must reinforce the business model for sustainability of not only the production of the vaccine but for the centre as well. And we all have a part to play. A lot of people have already played a part; GALVmed was singled out as having provided a substantial support to CTTBD. Equipment has been bought, capacity has been built and buildings refurbished. Now CTTBD has to take the mantle and fly with it.
Because it’s a matter of life and death.
And as the farmer representative MP Felix Jumbe said during the launch, “We want to see zero death as a result of ECF.”
A vaccine that is transforming lives
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.
Greater opportunity to control East Coast fever and other tick-borne diseases in Africa
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.
The CTTBD ECF vaccine: Responding to poor livestock keepers’ needs
The Centre for Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases (CTTBD) is currently producing the ‘one shot for life’ Muguga trivalent (cocktail) East Coast Fever vaccine. With substantial technical and business support from GALVmed, CTTBD now houses state of the art production and research equipment and re-trained personnel. But CTTBD is not merely producing the vaccine originally developed by International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other institutions such as KARI. CTTBD is actively researching how to improve the vaccine so that it responds to the needs of millions of small-scale livestock keepers and provide more practical ways of accessing the much sought after tick-derived ECF vaccine.
When you visit livestock keepers throughout Africa, one of their biggest cries is for a cheaper vaccine. But the most important factor to acknowledge is that these small-scale livestock keepers find it very difficult, almost close to impossible to meet the prerequisite of gathering together the minimum number of cattle required for a vaccination to take place before a 40 dose pack can be reconstituted. This is because most small-scale livestock famers do not own more than a few cattle per household and in most cases, the households are far apart making. In short, these farmers are calling for a cheaper, smaller dose pack of this life saving vaccine.
CTTBD has in the past six years improved one of the Zambian ECF vaccine stocks (Chitongo) by fine tuning the production process to see a fivefold increase in the number of doses from a vaccine unit volume. The Centre has now embarked on research to improve the Muguga Cocktail vaccine in ways that address small-scale livestock keepers’ needs. Ongoing research is looking into several fronts where this can be achieved including:
Smaller dose packs
CTTBD is in the process of investigating smaller dose packs. One approach is by simply packing the vaccine in smaller containers (straws) that will halve the volume. Towards this, a number of 0.25ml straws were filled with vaccine during the last production and are now under test both for viability of the vaccine in comparison to the traditional 0.5ml pack as well as user friendliness in the field. There is also research focussing on effects of pre-diluting the vaccine or simply reducing the number of ticks used in a unit volume.
Cheaper, simpler diluent
CTTBD is also testing alternative ECF vaccine diluents. The current diluent has the same constituents as the vaccine medium and requires to be frozen. This makes it very expensive and cumbersome for distribution. Currently, four potentially cheaper alternatives are under study including their respective shelf-lives at ambient temperatures.
Over the horizon continually peeps the possibility of removing the need for liquid nitrogen in the storage and delivery of the vaccine, a major component of the delivery cost. This will keep CTTBD on its research toes but we shall cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, CTTBD is wading waist deep in the process of improving the vaccine to tackle this lethal disease that kills millions of cattle in Africa.
CTTBD: The Complete Full Circle
(25th November 2014) – Since 2008, GALVmed has taken on the daunting challenge of trying to facilitate the control of East Coast Fever (ECF) in Eastern Africa. I joined GALVmed in 2009 with a burning desire to see that challenge through to fruition and to show that things can be done, and done well, in the African livestock sector.
In 2009, and for three decades before that, ECF was not only an economic disease, but also a very political disease with actors all working independently and against each other. This resulted in a relatively simple disease not being controlled effectively and livestock keepers – poor and affluent alike – facing the wrath of an easily controllable disease. ECF actually has three methods of control (unlike most livestock diseases):
- Prevent the tick with dip solutions (Acaricides)
- Treat affected animals once sick with drugs
- Vaccinate using the Muguga cocktail ECF ITM vaccine.
GALVmed opted to go for the vaccination approach because, as we all know, vaccination is far more effective and prevention is better than cure.
A lot of things had to be put in place to ensure that vaccination was to stand out as a preferred method of control. Over the years, GALVmed has:
- Engaged with partners and stakeholders at all levels from research to farmers
- Prepared a comprehensive dossier used for vaccination registration with regulatory authorities (the vaccine has been registered for the first time in Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania– conditional in Uganda)
- Facilitated the formation and support to the ECF regional task force
- Paved the way for distributors to be officially recognised and accredited by governments
- Assisted in the training of dozens of vaccinators in East Africa
- Significantly played a role in refurbishing, training and equipping the CTTBD from scratch to the point at which now the vaccine is being produced at a commercial level under quality assured production standards
It has been a very long and tumultuous road, but finally the circle has become full, with the launch of the newly refurbished, ready-to-go, state-of-the-art CTTBD Malawi.
I am so glad GALVmed and I had a role in this.
Time for African livestock keepers to take control of their own destiny
21st November 2014 – The Centre for Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases, or just CTTBD as it is better known, is in the outskirts of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It produces a unique vaccine against a killer livestock disease responsible for large numbers of deaths in cattle. East Cost Fever (ECF or Ndigana as it is known in parts of Kenya and Tanzania) is responsible for over 1 million cattle deaths a year with considerable consequences on livestock keepers’ livelihoods.
However, a solution is available. A vaccine referred to as the ECF-ITM involves infecting an animal with disease-causing organisms and then treating the animal with a long-acting antibiotic to produce lifelong immunity.
It takes over 18 months to produce the vaccine at a considerable cost. The vaccine is expensive BUT not as expensive as the cost and effects of loss of livelihoods to the livestock keeper.
For many people in Africa, livestock is a measure of wealth and a significant source of food through milk and meat. It is time for the livestock keeper in Africa to take control of their destinies and their own livelihoods. Often, the livestock keeper leaves the responsibility of vaccinations to the government. Yet when the pastoralist is out and about in search of pasture, he constructs a boma, a ring of thorny bushes to protect livestock against predators (lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas). They don’t leave that to the government. It is this change in mind set that is required to move forward to a brighter future. A future of many possibilities. A future of wealth and health. CTTBD is the partner to that future.
And before you ask, it is NOT time to duplicate this kind of facility all over Africa. It is time to consolidate our resources for efficiency and effectiveness. It is time to support the CTTBD for the sake of all livestock keepers in Africa.