The livestock corridors described above are where I focused on rinderpest vaccination, contributing to its eradication in 2010. In these unique areas, I met my target clients: pastoralists in Turkana, Toposa, and Nyangtom and agro-pastoralists from Karamoja. As it is also along the corridors that cattle raiding occurs, we had to conduct cross-border peace meetings and women’s peace crusades to reconcile the warring parties and give us a conducive environment to treat their livestock. The peace building and vaccination work are in fact the two activities that I am most proud of since they contributed to the improvement of resilience of my clients.
The conventional approach to rinderpest vaccination involving qualified veterinary and livestock production staff proved challenging in Karamoja due to the harsh environment, difficult terrain, limited roads, and mobile herds. Rampant raids and civil wars in Uganda, Sudan, and Ethiopia made the situation worse and accounted for many of the delays in controlling rinderpest. Meanwhile, our medical colleagues were celebrating the eradication of smallpox globally in1980.This ignited our determination as veterinarians to work harder to make sure we vaccinated as many cattle as possible so as to improve the chances of control and eventual eradication of rinderpest.
Due to the difficult situation in the Karamoja Cluster, we were forced to think outside the box. We decided to introduce the livestock owners themselves into the vaccination programme and to join the few veterinary doctors who could reach the region. In 1992–1993 our team was comprised of veterinarians under the Organization of African Union/Interafrican Bureau of Animal Resources (OAU/IBAR) who were working closely with the government veterinary services of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. We operated a small unit called the Community-based Animal Health and Participatory Epidemiology Unit CAPE (Feinstein International Center 2019). This unit targeted and involved the herders in the treatment of their animals. We were further blessed by the discovery of a thermostable rinderpest vaccine, which solved the challenge of maintaining a cold chain in a poor terrain without access roads. Thermostable rinderpest vaccines were manufactured in commercial quantities in Botswana, and so the combination of community-based animal health workers (CAHWs) and the vaccine helped us to vaccinate thousands and thousands of cattle across the Karamoja Cluster.
While my expatriate colleagues were operating from Nairobi, I and other African veterinarians were stationed in Lokichogio, Kenya. From there, we would regularly fly to the interior of southern Sudan and use Land Cruisers to transport vaccines and staff. We were working on the frontline of the ongoing civil war at the time. My specific role in southern Sudan was to train the herders to help in the vaccination of their own herds. These trained herders were the paraprofessional staff who later became called CAHWs. We asked elders to select disciplined sons and daughters to be given intensive 3 to 4 weeks of training on rinderpest vaccinations. These young people turned out to be key staff in knocking out rinderpest in the remote and inaccessible areas of the Karamoja Cluster, because they know their ecosystem so well. Using this approach, we vaccinated hundreds of thousands of cattle in southern Sudan, such that reported cases of rinderpest reduced drastically even in conflict-affected areas.
Our team in Nairobi realized that although we had scored very well working in the battle fronts of southern Sudan, other parts of Eastern Africa were still reporting outbreaks of rinderpest. In 1997, we decided to move on to Moroto, Lodwar, and Kapenguria (in or near the Cluster), where we trained CAHWs. The vaccination campaign against rinderpest improved fantastically in these difficult regions through the use of our community-based system. In 1999, the Commissioner of OAU/IBAR was so happy with my contribution to rinderpest control that he gave me a certificate of recognition.