Uganda: Makerere Lecturer Develops Tick Vaccine

Vaccine

Dr Margaret Saimo Kahwa, a veterinary doctor at Makerere University, has made a mark in the world of Science.

Dr Saimo has developed an anti-tick vaccine to address the problem of ticks resistance to acaricides -the chemicals used to spray against ticks, a factor upsetting the Shs27 billion worth livestock sector in the country.

Controlling ticks and tick-borne diseases (TBDs) costs the country an annual forex outflow worth more than Shs300 billion, according to the Agriculture ministry. Up to 50 or 80 per cent of animal farm in-put costs in the country go towards controlling ticks and TBDs.

The losses, however, do not capture calf mortality, loss in milk and meat production, which largely result from TBDs.

"The vaccine will be given twice a year for good protection but we will boost its efficacy over time so that a farmer can administer only once a year. The cost is around 3,000 shillings per dose," she told to Daily Monitor.

Ticks that are burdening animal farms across the country "have developed super resistance to almost all the available 21 acaricides", with western Uganda being the most affected, according to a 2017 study by National Drug Authority and Makerere University.

"Tick resistance to acaricides is very serious in the country, especially where they have used the current acaricides intensively without changing. For a number of farmers, all the drugs are no longer working and there is nothing they can use," Dr Saimo says.

Those who are keeping exotic breeds are the most affected by the burden of ticks resistance to the chemicals, according to study reports. The breeds have the poorest resistance to TBDs.

More than 2 million households in the country depend on livestock as a source of livelihood. There are more than 11 million heads of cattle in the country, according to statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Dr Saimo says although she has done everything and published many reports about the efficacy of the vaccine, rolling the vaccine out requires a lot of money that she doesn't have or can access.

"We have done trials in cattle at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (Covab), and found that it works," she says.

"We are working with a private company, Alfasan, which manufactures animal drugs. They have given us a line where we can do the production on a large scale," Dr Saimo adds.

The expert says she has requested money from the government but has not yet been granted. She said the money will enable them to do a major field assessment which is required by NDA to approve the vaccine.

"We had requested for 3 billion shillings to roll out the vaccine," she adds.

Asked whether ticks may also develop resistance to vaccines, she said: "Well, with the vaccine, the protein is not a protein that the body encounters. It will take time for the ticks to develop resistance against it."

How the vaccine works

Dr Saimo says they got the knowledge about the vaccine from their counterparts in Cuba where it has been used for more than 30 years to cleanse the animals of ticks' infestation. The expert developed the vaccine from proteins found in ticks that are attacking the animals in the country.

"The protein is in the ticks that are found around the country. You use a system in the laboratory to multiply the protein artificially, the same way some scientists can produce meat in the laboratory," the expert reveals.

The protein is then purified using special equipment and tested to ensure purity before attempting to use it. She said the vaccine has no negative effects on the meat, its quality and safety to consumers.

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