DRC: Livestock disease worries goat herders

| November 5, 2018

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Sahbani Karikumutima opens the little door of the enclosure where he keeps his goats. It is 8 o’clock in the morning and he is getting ready to take them to graze nearby. As if listening to a sweet melody, he smiles each time he hears one of them bleating and running toward the exit.

He touches a few of the goats before letting them leave the enclosure, happy to see them in good health.

Mr. Karikumutima has been raising goats since he was 19 years old. He lives in Rutshuru, 70 kilometres northeast of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The livestock keeper is now 74, and has come a long way with his enterprise. Last year, a disease known as peste des petits ruminants, or PPR, attacked many goats and sheep in Rutshuru and the surrounding area. Mr. Karikumutima hoped that his herd would be spared.

He says: “In the beginning, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw some of my goats fall sick from this disease. First, they started losing their appetite, then they got diarrhea, and then they died.”

In two months, he lost 21 of the 53 goats he owns—nearly half.

The virus that causes PPR is extremely contagious. Animals usually catch it from direct contact with the secretions of infected animals, such as tears, mucus, saliva, and others. But sometimes a goat can be contaminated after grazing in a place where a sick animal grazed. The disease spreads quickly, but does not affect humans.

Chuma Balolebwami is a 28-year-old goat herder who also lives in Rutshuru. He experienced the same scenario as Mr. Karikumutima. He watched on helplessly as his animals presented the same symptoms when the disease hit them: loss of appetite, diarrhea, then death.

Mr. Balolebwami says: “What hit me from the beginning of this disease is that you put out food and you return to nearly the same quantity. And then the goats stay in the same place and don’t move, and then comes the diarrhea. I was very worried also because there were traces of blood in their droppings. And finally my goats died.”

At first, the two livestock keepers didn’t realize that their goats had PPR. They didn’t react promptly, thinking that their herd was suffering from transient diarrhea, common in the area. They gave the animals veterinary medicine for simple diarrhea, but the situation worsened.

Mr. Balolebwami lost 16 of his 74 goats. Like many livestock keepers in the area, he has difficulty paying his children’s school fees without the income from selling his goats.

Cornelius Sylla Visseso is an agronomist and coordinator of an organization that works with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Livestock. Research conducted with other colleagues and veterinarians showed that PPR has been present in eastern DRC since 2017, is very dangerous, and spreads quickly.

Mr. Balolebwani and Mr. Karikumutima succeeded in saving the rest of their herd by vaccinating their uninfected goats. A single dose is enough to protect the goat, though it is recommended that animals receive annual vaccinations to protect them from other diseases.

Vaccinations are a preventative measure; PPR is expensive to treat once livestock are already infected.

But the high cost of the vaccine is a problem for many livestock keepers with small herds. One dose costs US $1. Many livestock keepers can’t afford to vaccinate all their goats at the same time.

ABy the end of 2017, PPR had killed more than 50,000 animals in the province of North Kivu, according to the regional government.

Mr. Sylla Visseso thinks that government funding could help livestock keepers vaccinate goats and sheep, keeping the animals safe from the ever-present risk of PPR.