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Charity group relies on schoolchildren for vaccinating poultry in Africa

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  • Charity group relies on schoolchildren for vaccinating poultry in Africa

    Charity group relies on schoolchildren for vaccinating poultry in Africa

    LITTLE ROCK: A vaccination program operated primarily by schoolchildren in Mozambique could help other African countries in the battle against bird flu, a nonprofit organization said in a recent report.

    Since last July, Heifer International has vaccinated roughly 20,000 chickens against Newcastle disease with the help of schoolchildren in two Mozambique districts. The children are trained on how to administer the vaccine to the chickens using eye drops.

    Heifer said it decided to use village schoolchildren because of the challenges of past vaccination programs and a shortage of qualified veterinary workers in rural Africa.

    "We train the children on the administration of the vaccine and provide the eye droppers for the vaccines and some protective things like gloves," said Geneti Debia, the organization's program officer for southern Africa. "They surround them and they're able to catch them pretty quickly."

    Every year, 70 percent of chickens in sub-Saharan Africa die from Newcastle disease, a highly contagious ailment that affects the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems of poultry.

    Debia said the spread of the disease hurts the poor in countries like Mozambique, where farmers rely on chickens for food and as an income source.

    In a midterm evaluation of the vaccination program, the nonprofit group said the traditional practice of immediately cooking and eating any bird that suddenly dies could prove fatal if the chicken has died from bird flu.

    "In rural Africa, poultry is really the only source of protein so when the chickens start to die, farmers don't want to waste the only source of protein they have," Debia said. "In some communities, they catch the sick ones, slaughter and eat them. And at other times they also kill the remaining flocks and preserve them for consumption at a later time."

    Debia said the organization hopes to work with governments to try and educate farmers to avoid eating birds that become sick or die suddenly.

    "Farmers should be told not to consume sick or dead birds in order to avoid possible infection by the avian flu," Debia said.

    Based in Little Rock, Heifer International provides livestock to poor families, plus training on how to help them produce an income. The families who receive the animals — from cattle to ducks to bees — are expected to pass the animals' offspring to others.

    Officials with the nonprofit said the students are good vaccinators and are able to teach others about the lessons from the program. The vaccinations have resulted in a 30 percent increase in poultry production in the two districts, Heifer's study said.

    "Some keep chickens themselves," said Domingos Cunhete, Heifer's country director for Mozambique. "They exchange experiences with other students involved in the vaccinations."

    Debia said the group plans to expand the program into Malawi, and if it is successful it could be expanded to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

    credits Kassy
    “Addressing chronic disease is an issue of human rights – that must be our call to arms"
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