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December 10, 2018

Tsetse hinders economic growth

Sub-Saharan Africa is behind economically due to the parasite trypanosome, which is only found on the continent and affects both humans and animals. The tsetse fly, which transmits the parasite, occupies the most arable land in Africa and water bodies leading to poverty.

It is this realisation that informed the African Heads of States and governments’ decision in 2000 in Lome, Togo, to free the continent from the scourge. The decision should be taken seriously as it is likely to hinder 38 counties from achieving the Big Four agenda on food and nutrition security.

The World Bank report on the poorest 25 countries shows 22 are tsetse-infested. The fly presents the single greatest hindrance to the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals, Vision 2030 and now the Big Four.

Trypanosomiasis, which is spread by tsetse flies in man and animals, is listed among Neglected Tropical Diseases by the World Health Organization. It has not received commensurate publicity and prioritisation like HIV-Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. Tsetse flies make large acreages of green pastures inaccessible for livestock grazing or the opening up of land for tilling.

Tsetse flies are found in remote rural areas where livelihoods are dependent on livestock, which is preferred by tsetse flies as source of blood, with national game parks acting as reservoirs.

Many people affected by tsetse flies, however, do not attribute their problems to the insect. Equally, the appreciation of the problem among policymakers in agriculture, tourism and public health is relatively low. I grew up in a tsetse fly-infested area and I have spent all my life fighting this insect. I can bet a piece of my liver that no meaningful development can be realised in the presence of tsetse flies.

To encourage the population to appreciate the impact, we have created localised success stories to show that it is doable. Today, Homa Bay is set to join Makueni and other counties in the milk-sufficient league. Emsos in Baringo county has reclaimed tsetse-infested bushes into pasture and crop fields. Residents of Faza Island at the Coast recently saw their first exotic dairy animals since Independence.

Makima in Embu county is now teeming with foreign investors and farmers are introducing exotic dairy animals. The area, which relied on food aid for so long, is now producing and exporting food. All these developments have been realised because the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council, supported by government funds, invested in these areas and drastically suppressed tsetse fly populations.

With a little more funding these successes can be replicated across the 38 tsetse-infested counties. The border areas of Busia and Bungoma no longer report cases of the human disease. But these achievements are threatened by inadequate awareness, capacity, resources and climate change, instead of the systematically expanding to other areas.

As Marcella Allan notes, the tsetse fly defined the boundaries of African states and any leap in economic growth requires that the lethal parasite is removed. It will also define which counties will attain food and nutrition security, more so the Lake Region Economic Bloc, which comprises 14 counties with big plans on socioeconomic, technological and research fields but with very little awareness of the impact of trypanosomiasis in animals and humans.

There is threat to tourism and universal healthcare with the spread of sleeping sickness, whose diagnosis is elusive, treatment a mirage and investment negligible, exposing about 11 million people to risk.

The vision of the African leaders should lead to a boost in exports, an agenda that has dominated our media in the last few weeks. The governments of Botswana and Namibia prioritised the removal of tsetse flies as a strategy to penetrate the EU beef export market and now dominate it.

The Lake Region Economic Bloc counties could borrow a leaf from Botswana and Namibia. We appeal for prioritisation of the tsetse problem by the national government and the 38 infested counties, more so the Lake Region Economic Bloc.

CEO, Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council

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