CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Livingstone
IN HUMANS it is usually mistaken for malaria whose symptoms are fever, headache and general body weakness while in animals, it reduces productivity through reduced conception and birth rates.
Trypanosomiasis is a serious chronic disease of animals and humans in sub-Saharan Africa which causes enormous economic losses by severely depressing livestock production and deprives man-hours through increased time spent on seeking medical attention.
The disease burden in humans results in reduced production capacity, leading to increased burden on families, communities and health care systems, and if untreated, trypanosomiasis leads to death in all infected animals or humans.
Indisputably, trypanosomiasis which is transmitted by tsetse flies directly or indirectly impacts negatively on agriculture and rural lives especially.
According to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) the bloodsucking insect kills more than three million head of livestock through trypanosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa every year, resulting in a staggering over US$4 billion in losses in the region.
Usually described as a ‘neglected disease’, it has received little attention despite its net effects on communities and the economy at large.
For President Lungu, this reality in Zambia is ‘business unusual’!
The head of State said livestock experts and other stakeholders should devise a pragmatic roadmap to completely eradicate tsetse flies and trypanosomiasis because they are a threat to the country’s agriculture and tourism sectors and ultimately–the national economy.
“Efforts have been made in the past to eradicate tsetse flies and trypanosomiasis from the African continent, however, this has not been achieved.
“I have been informed that the necessary knowledge, skills, technologies exist to be able to eliminate this problem,” President Lungu said.
According to the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, about 60 percent of Zambia’s traditional herd of cattle is at risk of infection with trypanosomiasis and the risk also applies for the goat and sheep populations.
Dogs and pigs are also susceptible to the disease while Human Animal Trypanosomiasis (HAT) commonly referred to as sleeping sickness, affects 100 people per year.
This came to light during the 34th African Union (AU) International Scientific Council for Trypanosomiasis Research and Control conference held in Livingstone where President Lungu was represented by Minister of Livestock and Fisheries Michael Katambo.
The conference dubbed, ‘Capitalising on the progress made against human and animal Trypanosomiasis-The way forward in partnership with all stakeholders’, attracted over 400 delegates from 38 countries across the world.
President Lungu said “In recent years, there has been an increase in reported cases of HAT among tourists visiting the country’s major parks demonstrating the significant threat of the disease on the tourism sector.
“This conference provides a platform for us to collectively take stock and reflect on why this disease continues to be such a huge burden on us in this time and era.
“History teaches us that it is not enough to have the desire but good plans to achieve something,” the head of State said.
President Lungu said the hosting of the conference by Zambia is in line with Government priorities and testimony of the importance it attaches to animal disease control and agriculture.
He said the conference was timely as it came at a time when the country is facing numerous threats to its prized resource-animal and human capital in the wake of diversifying the country’s economy through the agriculture sector among others.
According to the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, about 40 percent of Zambia’s land area is infested with tsetse flies which impedes livestock production, agriculture expansion and prohibits tourism activities.
The areas include east Kafue, Lower Zambezi, Kwando Zambezi, Bangweulu and Mweru Wantipa tsetse belts.
The Eastern tsetse belt is the most significant recording the highest number of animal and human trypanosomiasis cases. It covers approximately 80, 000 square kilometres in parts of the Eastern, Muchinga, Central and Lusaka Provinces.
This tsetse belt also extends into three neighbouring countries of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe which partly borders Southern Province, a region with the highest cattle population in Zambia.
Southern Province Minister Edify Hamukale said tsetse flies should be completely eliminated as they are a threat to ecology but not a threat to the rest of the ecosystem once removed from the bionetwork ‘equation’.
Dr Hamukale said there is need for massive sensitisation to ensure people become familiar and are able to identify the dangerous insects as some people have never seen them and cannot report cases of infestation in their respective areas.
“Let us get rid of this nuisance [tsetse flies]! …because it causes economic damage,” he said.
African Union Commission (AUC) representative Godfrey Bayigwa said the disease requires an intensified and sustainable fight as it is a huge challenge in Africa spanning over 48 out of the 54 countries on the continent.
In President Lungu’s words, the prevention and control of HAT and eradication of tsetse flies ultimately speaks directly to Zambia’s Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) Development Strategic Areas (DSA) which all sectors can focus on.
The DSAs include economic diversification and job creation, enhanced human development, reducing development inequalities and creating a conducive governance environment for a diversified economy.
These cannot be fully achieved if some key sectors of the economy such as tourism and agriculture are under threat by eliminable hurdles like tsetse flies.