6-10 July 2015. In Mid-April, Liberia experienced massive mortalities in sheep and goats suspected to be as a result of PPR outbreak. The national veterinary authorities formally requested emergency technical assistance of the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal resources (AU-IBAR) to elucidate these suspected mortalities recorded in small ruminants. In response, AU-IBAR and African Union Pan African Veterinary vaccine Centre (AU-PANVAC) jointly conducted a mission 6-10 July 2015 to determine the actual cause of these mortalities and proffer possible solutions to the problem.
A team of two technical officers from AU-IBAR and AU-PANVAC were therefore sent to the country with the objectives of providing assistance to the national veterinary authorities in:
- Determining the cause of the mortalities;
- Assessment of epidemiological situation of the suspected mortalities observed in sheep and goats in the country and investigate to what extent the disease has spread from mid-April up to the time of the visit;
- Assessment of the activities and measures already taken to contain the outbreaks, control the disease and prevent its spread from infected to non-infected areas and to help the Liberian authorities to perform the control measures;
- Recommend appropriate actions to be taken for the control and containment of the outbreak.
After 3 days of intensive field investigation which included interviews, discussion and field visits to the infected regions, necropsy and collection of fresh samples for laboratory diagnosis including organs for serology, molecular biology tests and virus isolation, it was found out that the disease was introduced into Liberia from Guinea Conakry by possible illegal trade by livestock traders. Liberia imports mainly live animals for human consumption from Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. These animals include small ruminants (sheep and goats) and cattle. The porosity of the borders and the resultant huge volume of informal trade and movement of animals across the borders creates a conducive atmosphere for animal diseases to move rapidly toward the cross border market in Guinea Conakry to Liberia through Nimba and Lofa counties (colored in red in the map). There is a close relationship (same communities) between the populations living across the 3 countries Guinea Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. It is also a well known fact that PPR is endemic in Guinea Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.
From the various interviews with Livestock officers, technicians and farmers, it was observed that the disease has caused severe socio-economic impact in the affected areas to which it was newly introduced. Up to date, the disease has been confirmed in two (2) counties; Nimba and Lofa neighboring Guinea Conakry. It was being suspected in other counties including Monrovia the capital of Liberia.
The main clinical signs and symptoms described by the farmers and livestock officers include the following: fever, cough, nasal and lachrymal discharge, laboring breathing, abundant diarrhea, general apathy and death within 3-4 days with high mortality of over 78% in sheep and up to 100% in goats.
During the mission, a new outbreak of PPR was encountered in Ganta, the commercial city of Nimba county, just next to Guinea Conakry border. This new outbreak comprised 3 remaining goats out of 15 animals bought in Zérékolé market, a cross border market located in Guinea Conakry, 50-100 km from Ganta city.
The post mortem lesions coupled with the clinical signs observed indicated a strong suspicion of peste des petits ruminants (PPR).
All the collected samples were processed and analysed at the AU-PANVAC laboratory at Debra Zeit, Ethiopia for confirmation. The laboratory tests performed which included competitive ELISA and PCR have shown that the samples collected (swabs, organs and serums) were positive for the PPR virus.
There is currently no statistical data on the Liberian livestock population. It is therefore difficult to evaluate the magnitude of the loss due to the disease. The small ruminant losses in the infected counties and villages are huge as PPR is considered as the most dreaded epizootic diseases of sheep and goats characterized by a high rate of mortality which can reach 100% especially in naïve populations, which was the case of Liberia. Indeed, in some of the affected villages visited by the mission, the disease has wiped out all the small ruminant population. Goats were the most affected with mortality rates of 95-100% compared to 70-75% for sheep.
From the field findings, there is a serious risk that the disease may become endemic in the country if concerted control measures are not urgently put in place. The endemic status would be further complicated with the involvement of wildlife population. It is also quite evident that thorough epidemiological investigation has not been conducted and therefore the precise extent of spread remains unknown as the disease is suspected in neighboring counties of the country.
The following recommendations, short and medium to long term - are premised on the understanding that PPR is the most important transboundary animal disease (TAD) of small ruminants in Africa and that there is an effective vaccine for its prevention and control.
Immediate/ short-term (6 months or less) actions are intended to stop further spread of the disease and facilitate containment, these include:
- The need to conduct thorough epidemiological investigations to benchmark zonation and containment;
- To urgently train the cross-border livestock officers from both countries (if possible) in Guinea and Liberia on disease surveillance, reporting and control techniques;
- To develop and implement communication, sensitization and awareness creation campaign at all levels, with special attention to farmers using local media, TV, Radio.....;
- Undertake ring vaccination in the disease free areas bordering/surrounding the infected areas;
- Undertake joint cross border disease control measures/interventions between Guinea and Liberia;
- Build capacity for surveillance, diagnosis, control and containment of animal diseases;
- With the assistance of AU-IBAR and other development partners, prepare national and regional strategy and projects for PPR control/ eradication and seek funding;
- Develop an emergency preparedness plan for PPR as part of the national contingency plan for animal diseases and disasters;
- Plan and implement a joint AU-IBAR / FAO technical cooperation program (TCP) to assist the country in containing the disease as well as strengthening its capacity in laboratory diagnosis and disease surveillance, control and containment.
In the medium to long term (6 months and over):
- Continue with the short-term activities as deemed necessary;
- Implement the national/ regional strategies (projects) for PPR control;
- Develop a program for restocking small ruminants farming across the country. Re-stocking should only be done once the Director of Veterinary Services is fully satisfied that the disease has been eradicated and appropriate control and surveillance measures are put in place.
In summary, Liberia is experiencing for the first time mass sheep and goat mortalities with high mortality rate from 75-100% in all affected areas. The sheep and goat mortalities in Liberia were found to be as a result of PPR outbreak which was confirmed initially through clinical and postmortem findings and later laboratory confirmation by AU-PANVAC. It appeared that the disease was introduced into Liberia from Guinea Conakry and the epicenter of the outbreak in Liberia is the Nimba County which shares border with Guinea Conakry. Coordinated and harmonized control measures/interventions are needed for the effective containment and control of the disease. Further epidemiological investigation is strongly recommended for mapping the infected areas.
There is a need for short and medium term interventions including training of cross border livestock and quarantine officers in disease recognition and control measures, as well as mass vaccination in the disease free areas.
AU-IBAR and other international partners’ assistance to contain the outbreaks and embark on control and eradication are highly recommended.