Harnessing Technology to Combat Tick-Borne Pathogens in African Cattle

The majority of the African population resides in rural areas where crop and livestock production are integral to their livelihoods. Recognizing the socio-economic importance of livestock, particularly cattle, a comprehensive multi-country surveillance study was initiated to assess the prevalence of tick-borne haemoparasites (TBHPs) in East and West Africa. This study encompassed Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda, focusing on understanding the current status of TBHPs and their impact on cattle in smallholder production systems.

Methods and Scope

The study assessed pathogen prevalences, including Anaplasma marginale, Anaplasma centrale, Babesia bigemina, Babesia bovis, Ehrlichia ruminantium, and Theileria parva, in the blood of 6,447 cattle across fourteen districts (two districts per country). Additionally, intrinsic factors (such as sex, weight, and body condition) and extrinsic factors (such as husbandry practices and tick exposure) were screened as predictors of TBHP infections. This standardized approach aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and impact of these pathogens across different regions.

Results and Insights

Significant macro-geographic variation in pathogen prevalences was observed. The highest numbers of infected cattle were found in Ghana and Benin, while the lowest were in Burkina Faso. Theileria parva was rare, found only in Uganda (3.0%), whereas Anaplasma marginale was prevalent in every country, with at least a 40% prevalence. Babesia bovis infections correlated with lower body condition scores, indicating a detrimental impact on cattle health and productivity.

Age was a significant factor, with older cattle (estimated via body weight) showing higher Anaplasma marginale infection rates but lower Babesia bigemina and Ehrlichia ruminantium prevalences. Ehrlichia ruminantium was more common in males, and Anaplasma marginale was more prevalent in transhumance farming systems. High levels of co-infection were observed, particularly the combination of Anaplasma marginale and Babesia bigemina, which were prevalent in all countries except Uganda and Burkina Faso.

Implications and Recommendations

The ubiquity of tick-borne pathogens in smallholder cattle production systems across Africa poses a significant challenge to livestock health and productivity. The study’s findings highlight the need for targeted surveillance and prevention strategies. Notably, Babesia bovis, which heavily impacts production, continues to spread across the continent, exacerbated by the invasive Rhipicephalus microplus tick.

To combat these challenges, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. This includes improving tick control measures, enhancing farmer education on best husbandry practices, and developing region-specific vaccination programs. Stakeholders, including governments, agricultural organizations, and veterinary services, must collaborate to implement effective TBHP management strategies.

Investing in research and development to create resilient cattle breeds, improving diagnostic tools, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices can significantly mitigate the impact of TBHPs. By addressing these challenges, Africa’s smallholder livestock production systems can be strengthened, ensuring better livelihoods for rural communities and contributing to the continent’s overall socio-economic development.

Conclusion

The standardized surveillance study provides crucial insights into the prevalence and impact of tick-borne pathogens in African cattle. By leveraging this knowledge, stakeholders can develop and implement effective strategies to improve cattle health and productivity. Addressing TBHPs is not just about enhancing livestock production but also about securing the livelihoods of millions of rural Africans who depend on cattle for their economic well-being. As the study underscores, coordinated efforts and innovative solutions are essential to combat the pervasive threat of TBHPs in Africa’s smallholder livestock systems.

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