Tsetse flies have been in Uganda from time immemorial and efforts by different governments and community to fight the menace must have been just as old.
For some years, the entomology department of the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for fighting tsetse flies that cause the ‘Nagana’ disease in animals and ‘Sleeping sickness’ in human regarded Karamoja region as a low risk zone.
This is because of the nature of the vegetation around Karamoja (semi-arid) which is not suitable for the tsetse flies survival. However, the current state of tsetse flies infestation in the whole of Karamoja region could be enough proof that these flies have been in existence for some years without the knowledge of both government and Pastoralists in this region.
Uganda is considered to have the highest number of tsetse - fly species in Africa due to its good climate and evergreen vegetation. Tsetse transmitted Trypanosomiasis is known to occur only in Africa in an area called the Tsetse belt covering 37 countries.
State of Tsetse flies in Karamoja
A few years back, grandparents in Karamoja would once in a while talk about ‘tsetse flies’ but to the young boy who used to graze animals from Kotido through other places like Abim, Otuke, Pader and Kitgum it was a ‘hear say’. He never saw any as with a group of other boys enjoyed grazing.
“Due to long drought spell, we would stay away from home for about four months grazing our animals in different districts that had grass and water,” he explains.
It was until the age of eleven years that his father enrolled him in a Catholic Missionary Primary School around Kotido town, then Moroto High School and later he joined a University in Gulu.
Currently Julius Locheng Lotyakatau is no longer a young boy but a District speaker for Kotido District who is cursing the high infestation of tsetse flies in the whole of Karamoja region.
“The situation changed and there is urgent need to make aggressive awareness campaign so that Pastoralists learn how to fight tsetse flies that transmit the Nagana disease. It affects their animals’ production but if controlled they will be able to improve on their animal production and overcome the high level of poverty,” Locheng said.
Doctor Henry Mulondo the DVO for Kotido explains the highly infested areas in Kotido are Kacheri, Rengen and Kotido sub-counties which are located near Kidepo National Park.
“Lack of entomologists in the whole District could have contributed to the multiplication of these flies without being noticed. If entomologists were present, they would have noted their existence long ago and made interventions to control them,” Mulondo explained.
He expressed concern that the district also lacks veterinary staff even after various adverts have been put up – nobody has applied.
Meanwhile, Doctor John Branda Logwee the DVO Kaabong explains the highest infested areas in Kaabong District are Karenga sub-county (where 1000 flies were captured in a trap in one day), Lobalangit, Kawalakol, Lolelia, Sidok and Loyoro.
“Inadequate quantity of drugs to effectively control tsetse fly infestation and trypanosomiasis and other vectors should be addressed. This will help pastoralists benefit in keeping their animals’ health,” Logwee says.
Reports from the Agriculture Ministry indicates that Animal African Trypanosomiasis caused by trypanosomes and transmitted by the tsetse flies remains a major constraint to food security in trypanosomiasis endemic areas of Africa.
Since cattle keeping is a major economic and cultural activity of the people in this region where grazing is done on communal grazing lands, government has taken steps.
A five year project ‘Regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience’ funded by World Bank under the Ministry of Agriculture was recently launched in both Kaabong and Kotido Districts to help control the tsetse flies infestation.
Doctor James Kakungulu who led the team from the ministry explained that estimates show that tsetse flies suppression initiative will benefit over 110,000 households that own livestock in Karamoja.
Ethics and Integrity minister Simon Lokodo, also Member of Parliament for Dodoth East launched the ‘Emergency Tsetse fly control intervention project’ in both districts.
“The livelihoods of the people of Karamoja largely depend on livestock production so this calls for urgent action to save them,” he explained. While urging government to address more water dam issues in the area as there is scarcity of water, Lokodo was concerned that currently pastoralists lose over 25 cattle per family due to the Nagana disease where many are not even aware of this disease or its treatment.
About the new project:
According to Dr Kakungulu, the 5-year project will tackle 12 districts in this region namely Kotido, Kaabong, Abim, Moroto, Nakapiripirit, Napak and Amudat. Others are Amuria, Katakwi, Kumi, Bukedea and Kween districts. He explained that on top of the ‘pour-on’ drugs (deltamethrin pour-on) provided in both districts, the injectable type was for the first time introduced (isometamedium chloride) to help in addressing this issue.
“The injectable drug treats an animal already found with the disease while it also helps protect one not yet infected,” Dr Mulondo explained. The protection is estimated to be for only three months thus a reason to continue injecting these animals.
A number of ‘Community Animal Health Workers’ in this region were trained in handling exercises to use these drugs and many were seen injecting animals at both Kacheri sub-county and Lolelia in Kaabong.
Kakungulu further explained how the pour-on drugs help in killing tsetse flies, ticks, stomoxys (Kawawa), Tabanids (Ebiruma – mbogo and many other vectors. The drug poured on the animal will remain active for a period of 10 – 12 months. He said the signs of Nagana disease include loss of weight in the animals, becomes anaemic, weakness salivation, lacrimation, depressed as well as developing nasal discharge. If not treated, he says infected animals die in a few weeks or several months, depending on the virulence of the trypanosome