Herders in Turkana district in northwestern Kenya have lost an estimated 100,000 goats and sheep in the past year to peste des petits ruminants (PPR), a senior veterinarian in the area said.
The disease, which is not common in Kenya, was first noticed in the district in March 2006 and diagnosed in July last year, George Omori, the veterinary officer in charge of Turkana, said.
He said PPR had spread to virtually the entire district, with pastoralist communities in the administrative divisions of Lokichoggio, Kakuma, Oropoi and Kibish having lost a significant number of sheep and goats. Turkana has a population of almost half a million people.
"Most of the pastoralists in these areas are now desperate and will require restocking," said Omori. The semi-arid Turkana district is mostly inhabited by nomadic pastoralists, whose livelihoods are often affected by recurrent drought. The disease struck at a time when residents had not yet recovered from livestock losses incurred during a severe drought in 2005.
Suspected cases of the disease had also been reported in Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda, Southern Sudan and southern Ethiopia, according to Dan Irura, programme manager of the Turkana Livestock Development Programme, managed by Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF-Belgium).
He described the PPR outbreak as a "transboundary challenge" that will require coordination between Kenya, Uganda, Southern Sudan and Ethiopia to combat, once the outbreak is confirmed in those states.
VSF-Belgium partnered with Kenya's livestock department and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to carry out a PPR vaccination campaign between February and June 2007.
The vaccination was carried out in 112 of Turkana's 156 administrative sub-locations where blood samples taken from 1,840 sheep and goats had tested positive for PPR, Irura said.
According to Omori, the viral infection has no known cure and can only be controlled through vaccination.
Irura said 1.4 million doses of the PPR vaccine imported from Jordan had been used during the campaign, which he said had managed to reduce the number of reported cases. An epidemiological analysis was under way to determine how successful the vaccination exercise had been, he added.
Turkana district has an estimated two million goats and one million sheep, according to Omori. Symptoms of PPR include lassitude, fever, nasal discharge, oral lesions and diarrhoea. The disease has a mortality rate of 90 percent, Omori added.
The London-based Advanced Veterinary Information Service (AVIS) described PPR as an acute contagious disease, which occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, throughout most of the Middle Eastern countries, and southwest Asia. It resembles rinderpest in cattle.
The PPR vaccine provides protection for about three years for small ruminants, according to AVIS.