Researchers at The Pirbright Institute together with the Royal Veterinary College in London have been working with scientists at the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), farmers and policy makers in Nigeria to tackle the devastating effects of sheeppox and goatpox (SGP).
These viral diseases transmit between animals very quickly, and affected animals show symptoms such as multiple necrotic skin lesions, weight loss, damaged hides, and decreased wool and cashmere production.
The mortality rate in infected animals can be up to 40% and therefore it is important for scientists to understand how these viruses spread and explore effective ways to prevent and control them.
Nigeria has one of the largest sheep and goat populations with an estimated 83.7 million goats and 47.7 million sheep. These animals are essential to the livelihoods of many people in different ways, including improving food security, providing income through sales of animals and animal products, and by generating employment opportunities.
Researchers have collected information on the risk factors associated with disease. These include herd sizes, common management practices (such as grazing areas and sharing reproductive males), where and when new animals were acquired, disease history and coping strategies that might play a role in disease transmission.
These data were first used to identify factors that increase the risk of disease exposure, identify hotspot areas and estimate the economic impact. Bringing new small ruminants into a herd and having a history of sheeppox and/ or goatpox in the herd were the main risk factors identified. This knowledge was then used to assess the impact of control measures such as vaccination. Vaccination was found to be economically viable at a herd and regional level for most scenarios assessed.
To make the research accessible to farmers, researchers developed an SGP Cost and Vaccination Calculator, an online tool designed for use in the field when speaking to farmers about their livestock. This tool helps to estimate if it would be cost-effective for farmers to vaccinate their animals to prevent disease.
A researcher from Pirbright also visited Nigeria in March 2022 to present and discuss the results with policymakers and share their knowledge of animal health economics with the young scientists at the NVRI, providing local researchers the tools and expertise to continue the work and apply them to other diseases. They also visited livestock markets as part of an ongoing pilot study to understand the structure and governance of livestock markets in Northern Nigeria to ensure future interventions are aligned with the local context.
Dr Georgina Limon-Vega, the scientist co-leading this work in the Transmission Biology research group at Pirbright said: “This research is an important step to understanding the impact of sheeppox and goatpox in Nigeria. Working directly with the scientists, farmers and policy makers in Nigeria ensures that our research is of direct benefit and will have a real-life impact on animal health.”
This work was supported by UK Research and Innovation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Grants.
Image credit: Dr Georgina Limon-Vega