Livestock vaccine offers lifeline to many

ITM Vaccine

A vaccine is being made available to save the lives of a million cattle in sub-Saharan Africa against a lethal disease and to help safeguard the livelihoods of people who rely on their cattle for their survival.

East Coast fever is a tick-transmitted disease that kills one cow every 30 seconds. It puts the lives of more than 25 million cattle at risk in the 11 countries of sub-Saharan Africa where the disease is now endemic. The disease endangers a further 10 million animals in regions such as southern Sudan, where it has been spreading at a rate of more than 30 kilometres a year. While decimating herds of indigenous cattle, East Coast fever is an even greater threat to improved exotic cattle breeds and is therefore limiting the development of livestock enterprises, particularly dairy, which often depend on higher milk-yielding crossbred cattle. The vaccine could save the affected countries at least a quarter of a million US dollars a year.

Registration of the East Coast fever vaccine is central to its safety and efficacy and to ensuring its sustainable supply through its commercialization. The East Coast fever vaccine has been registered in Tanzania for the first time, a major milestone that will be recognized at a launch event in Arusha, northern Tanzania, on May 20. Recognizing the importance of this development for the millions whose cattle are at risk from the disease, governments, regulators, livestock producers, scientists, veterinarians, intellectual property experts, vaccine distributors and delivery agents as well as livestock keepers – all links in a chain involved in getting the vaccine from laboratory bench into the animal – will be represented.

An experimental vaccine against East Coast fever was first developed more than 30 years ago at the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Major funding from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and others enabled work to produce the vaccine on a larger scale. When stocks from 1990s ran low, the Africa Union/Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources and chief veterinary officers in the affected countries asked the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to produce more and ILRI subsequently produced a million doses of the vaccine to fill this gap. But the full potential for livestock keepers to benefit from the vaccine will only be achieved through longer term solutions for the sustainable production, distribution and delivery of the vaccine.

With $28US million provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID, a not-for-profit organization called GALVmed (Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines) is fostering innovative commercial means for the registration, commercial distribution and delivery of this new batch of the vaccine. A focus on sustainability underpins GALVmed’s approach and the Global Alliance is bringing public and private partners together to ensure that the vaccine is available to those who need it most.

Previous control of East Coast fever relied on use of acaracide dips and sprays, but these have several drawbacks. Ticks can develop resistance to acaracides and regular acaricide use can generate health, safety and environmental concerns. Furthermore, dipping facilities are often not operational in remote areas.

This effective East Coast fever vaccine uses an ‘infection-and-treatment method’, so-called because the animals are infected with whole parasites while being treated with antibiotics to stop development of disease. Animals need to be immunized only once in their lives, and calves, which are particularly susceptible to the disease, can be immunized as early as 1 month of age.

Over the past several years, the field logistics involved in mass vaccinations of cattle with the infection-and-treatment method have been greatly improved, due largely to the work of a private company, VetAgro Tanzania Ltd, which has been working with Maasai cattle herders in northern Tanzania. VetAgro has vaccinated more than 500,000 Tanzanian animals against East Coast fever since 1998, with more than 95% of these vaccinations carried out in remote pastoral areas. This vaccination campaign has reduced calf mortality in herds by 95%. In the smallholder dairy sector, vaccination reduced the incidence of East Coast fever by 98%. In addition, most smallholder dairy farmers reduced their acaracide use by at least 75%, which reduced both their financial and environmental costs.

Notes for Editors

What is East Coast fever?
East Coast fever is caused by Theleria parva (an intracellular protozoan parasite), which is transmitted by the brown ear tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus. The parasites the tick carries make cattle sick, inducing high fever and lympho-proliferative syndrome, usually killing the animals within three weeks of their infection.

East Coast fever was introduced to southern Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century with cattle imported from eastern Africa, where the disease had been endemic for centuries. This introduction caused dramatic cattle losses. The disease since then has persisted in 11 countries in eastern, central and southern Africa – Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The disease devastates the livelihoods of small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farmers, particularly smallholder and emerging dairy producers, as well as pastoral livestock herders, such as the Maasai in East Africa.

The infection-and-treatment immunization method against East Coast fever was developed by research conducted over three decades by the East African Community and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) at Muguga, Kenya ( Researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya (, helped to refine the live vaccine. This long-term research was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) ( and other donors of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) (

The first bulk batch of the vaccine, produced by ILRI 15 years ago, has protected one million animals against East coast fever, with the survival of these animals raising the standards of living for many livestock keepers and their families. Field trials of the new vaccine batch, also produced at ILRI, were completed in accordance with international standards to ensure that it is safe and effective.

How is the vaccine stored and administered?
Straws of the East Coast fever vaccine are stored in liquid nitrogen until needed, with the final preparation made either in an office or in the field. The vaccine must be used within six hours of its reconstitution, with any doses not used discarded. Vaccination is always carried out by trained veterinary personnel working in collaboration with livestock keepers. Only healthy animals are presented for vaccination; a dosage of 30% oxytetracycline antibiotic is injected into an animal’s muscle while the vaccine is injected near the animal’s ear. Every animal vaccinated is given an eartag, the presence of which subsequently increases the market value the animal. Young calves are given a worm treatment to avoid worms interfering with the immunization process.

Case studies illustrating the impact of the infection-and-treatment vaccine on people’s lives are available on the GALVmed website at:
For more information about the GALVmed launch of the live vaccine, on 20 May 2010, in Arusha, Tanzania, go to

East Coast fever vaccine comes to market in eastern and southern Africa

As the board of trustees of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) meets in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week, reviewing ILRI’s animal health research among other work, an ILRI vaccine project is highlighted in a new publication, DFID Research 2009–2010: Providing research evidence that enables poverty reduction. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation both support the Global Alliance in Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), which works to convert existing or near-market technologies into livestock medicines and vaccines for use in developing countries. The notable success of this strategy in 2009, says DFID, is an East Coast fever vaccine produced by ILRI. East Coast fever is a tick-transmitted disease that kills one cow every 30 seconds in eastern, central and southern Africa, where it threatens some 25 million cattle in 11 countries and is now putting at risk a further 10 million animals in new regions, such as southern Sudan, where the disease has been spreading at a rate of more than 30 kilometres a year. The disease is a major cattle killer. In herds kept by the pastoralist Maasai, it kills 20–50% of all unvaccinated calves, which makes it difficult and often impossible for the herders to plan for the future or to improve their livestock enterprises. A vaccine for East Coast fever could save over a million cattle and up to £170 million a year in the 11 countries where the disease is now endemic. An experimental vaccine against East Coast fever, which makes use of live but weakened parasites, has existed for more than three decades, with batches mass produced in ILRI’s Nairobi laboratories. Although constrained by the need for a ‘cold chain’ to keep the ‘live’ vaccine viable, field use of this vaccine in Tanzania and elsewhere has proved it to be highly effective and in demand by poor livestock keepers, who are paying for the vaccine to keep their animals alive. GALVmed has worked with ILRI and private companies, such as VetAgro Tanzania Ltd., to make East Coast fever vaccine available to the livestock keepers who need it most and to scale up production in future. With £16.5 million provided by DFID and the BMGF, GALVmed began working on the registration and commercial distribution and delivery of a new batch of the vaccine produced by ILRI. The vaccine was successfully registered in 2009 in Malawi and Kenya, with Tanzania and Uganda expected to follow soon. If it is approved in Uganda, it will be the first veterinary vaccine formally registered in that country. GALVmed is now working to establish viable commercial production and delivery systems, aiming that by the end of 2011, all aspects of the production and delivery of East Coast fever vaccine are in private hands.

Innovative and collaborative veterinary organizations make vaccine available to Kenyan livestock keepers

A group of determined Kenyan livestock keepers set in motion an innovative collaboration that has benefited cattle-keeping communities throughout Kenya
Starting in 2000, word started getting out among Kenyan pastoralists that a vaccine being administered in Tanzania was succeeding in protecting cattle against East Coast fever. Kenya at that time did not condone use of this vaccine due to perceived safety and other issues, and so Kenya ’s livestock keepers could not get hold of it. In response, they began to walk their calves across the Kenya border into Tanzania to get them vaccinated.

‘East Coast fever is responsible on average for half of the calf mortality in pastoral production systems in eastern Africa . This vaccine represented a much needed lifeline for many pastoralists, and livestock keepers in Kenya wanted access to it,’ Evans Taracha, head of animal health at at ILRI explained.

‘ILRI faced a dilemma. We had produced a vaccine right here in Nairobi, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), that could protect pastoral and other cattle against East Coast fever, but, due to government regulations, our beneficiaries could not get access to it in Kenya.’

Kenya’s livestock keepers then started lobbying national authorities and called upon Vétérinaires sans Frontières (VSF)-Germany, an international veterinary NGO based in East Africa , to help them. Thus began a highly successful multi-partner collaboration.

Besides VSF-Germany, the collaboration includes ILRI, the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the African Union-InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU/IBAR), the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS), the NGO VetAgro, and the community-based Loita Development Foundation.

Gabriel Turasha, field veterinary coordinator for VSF-G said, ‘The demand for this vaccine was evident from the farmers’ actions. What we needed to prove – to the authorities restricting its use – was that the vaccine was safe, effective and a superior alternative to the East Coast fever control strategy already being used in Kenya .’

Armed with scientific evidence, the collaboration successfully lobbied the Kenyan government and then facilitated local production and local access to the vaccine. Three vaccine distribution centres have been established in Kenya and more than 10,000 calves vaccinated.

John McDermott, ILRI’s deputy director general of research, said, ‘This collaboration illustrates how the research from “discovery to delivery” can be facilitated by collaboration between research institutes, which are in the business of doing science, and development partners, which are in the business of on-the-ground delivery. This has been a great success story—and a great win for Kenya ’s pastoralists.’

This innovative collaboration has been selected as a finalist in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) ‘Innovation Marketplace Awards’. These awards recognize outstanding collaborative efforts among CGIAR-supported centres and civil society organizations. Four winners will be announced at the CGIAR’s Annual General Meeting, to be held in Washington, DC , in December 2006.

Carlos Seré, director general of ILRI, said, ‘We are delighted to learn that this partnership has received recognition. ILRI is involved in a host of innovative collaborations and continues to seek new partners—from civil society organizations to the private sector to local research institutions—to help us deliver on our promises to poor livestock keepers in developing countries.’

ollaborative Team Brings Vaccine against Deadly Cattle Disease to Poor Pastrolists for the First Time

Related Articles on Innovation Collaborations
ILRI recently collaborated with VSF-Belgium, VSF-Switzerland and two Italian NGOs in an Emergency Drought Response Program in Kenya.

VSF, ILRI, Italian NGOs, and Kenya Collaborate to Mitigate the Effects of Drought in Northern Kenya

The ILRI collaborative effort described in this Top Story was featured in the Journal of International Development (July 2005) as an example of a ‘potentially new model of research and development partnership’ with a more ‘complete’ approach to innovation.


Further Information
VSF-Germany is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization engaged in veterinary relief and development work. VSF-Germany's primary role involves the control and prevention of epidemics; the establishment of basic veterinarian services and para-veterinarian programs with high involvement of local people; the improvement of animal health, especially among agriculturally useful animals; food security through increases in the production of animal-based food and non-food products; and the reduction of animal diseases that are transferable to humans. VSF-Germany carries out emergency as well as development operations. The organization's area of operation is East Africa.