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stories since they began vaccinating their
chickens with a simple vaccine developed
through ACIAR research.
The origins of the growth in Singida extend
back more than a decade. In 1996, veterinarian
and infectious diseases expert Dr Robyn Alders
moved to Mozambique to work on an ACIAR-
funded program to control Newcastle disease.
Newcastle disease can wipe out entire
populations of chickens within days, and in
the early 1990s a team of scientists led by the
University of Queensland's Professor Peter
Spradbrow had developed a 'silver bullet'
in the developing world's battle with the
virus---a vaccine that does not require constant
refrigeration. For the ensuing ACIAR project,
led by Professor Spradbrow, Dr Alders would
oversee a trial rollout of this vaccine in what
was then the poorest country in the world.
Over 7 intense years of research design, pre-
testing, and supply-chain development---all
with rigorous community consultation---she
laid the foundation for a sustainable, successful
program that has since been applied in other
African countries, including Tanzania.
"In all of the trial work we've done there has
been 100% protection against virulent strains,
provided the bird has received at least the
minimum dose to stimulate immunity," says
Dr Alders, who received an Order of Australia
in 2011 for her contribution to food security in
Overall, smallholders in villages with
vaccination programs say they enjoy
better nutrition through increased protein
consumption. The vaccine's indirect benefits
of economic stability largely flow through
to women, who are the primary stewards of
village chickens. For example, in HIV/AIDS-
affected households headed by women, the
birds are an ideal income stream as they require
little husbandry, seeking their own food and
water as required.
Newcastle disease was recognised in 1926
and received its name after an outbreak in
England's Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In humans,
it can cause minor infections such as
conjunctivitis, but for birds the implications
are fatal, attacking the gastrointestinal,
respiratory or nervous systems. "If the effects are
neurological, you'll get birds that have a twisted
neck, and locals will say 'they're staring at the
stars'," Dr Alders says. "With virulent strains you
can just have birds falling over dead with very
few signs except that they're dead."
In many rural areas in Africa 50--80% of
birds die each year from Newcastle disease.
Farmers split their stocks over several locations
to limit the effects of the virus, but will often
inadvertently spread the disease when they
move infected chickens that have not yet shown
signs of illness to the site of a healthy flock.
Farmers re-stock through a system of family
networks. They are usually forced to make cuts
in other parts of household expenditure, such
as medication or schooling, with the education
of girls more likely to be discontinued.
Importantly, the unpredictable lifespan of
chickens due to the presence of Newcastle
disease means families often do not eat poultry
meat or eggs. Instead they prioritise hatching
eggs to get replacement birds that will
hopefully be sold for at least $2 per bird.
"In some places there are taboos that limit
egg consumption, and unfortunately it's often
pregnant women and young boys for whom
the taboos are in place, because boys are often
out tending the herds away from supervision,"
Dr Alders says.
"Once Newcastle disease is controlled and
stock numbers increase, eating eggs is a very
good use of resources because you don't have
to maintain a larger flock and so don't need to
provide additional feed. You just keep a certain
number of hens and then start to consume or
sell your eggs. So those taboos do change."
The successful Mozambique trial has
since been extended into Tanzania, Zambia,
Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Ethiopia and Cameroon through projects
funded variously by the Australian Government
Overseas Aid Program (AusAID), the African
Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations and the European Union.
In Mozambique about 20% of villages now
vaccinate their chickens, and in Tanzania that
number is closer to 40%. The training and
implementation manuals developed through
the ACIAR work are publicly available to any
government wishing to implement vaccination,
along with the vaccine's master seed.
AN INNOVATIVE PROGRAM
In the history of 20th-century development
work, many vaccination programs for humans
or animals have failed once funding ends and
staff leave. From its outset the goal of this
project was to develop a locally run program
with villagers managing the knowledge and
resources to maintain healthy flocks of chickens.
For Dr Alders, one of greatest assets to the
team she brought together for the ACIAR
work was social anthropologist Dr Brigitte
Bagnol, with whom she had first worked in the
early 1990s on an Oxfam project. "I hope to
encourage other researchers in my position to
recognise the importance of getting a social
scientist involved," Dr Alders says. "It not only
means that your material is likely to be more
effective in the field, but it also opens your eyes
to how people think about the process."
Part of the new perspective brought by
Dr Bagnol was an understanding of the different
interpretations of disease held by villagers,
especially where people are not familiar with
the germ theory of disease. Many smallholders
were also cynical of vaccination due to past
experiences in which vaccinators had arrived
to treat chickens after an outbreak had already
occurred and inoculation was pointless. "The
villagers sometimes thought the vaccinator was
responsible for the death," Dr Alders says.
One area that especially requires the
input of a social scientist is the pre-testing of
communication material. "It's particularly crucial
for people who haven't been to school, who
Sra Filomena Cuna vaccinating chickens in Mudada Bairro during the
July 2005 campaign in Chibuto, Gaza Province, Mozambique.
PHOTO: TRACEY LINDSAY
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