Over 1,000 camels have succumbed to an unidentified disease in Somali and Oromia regional states beginning last month. The disease also affected people who consume camel meat and milk in the affected areas of the two regions, authorities at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute disclosed.

Fears are growing the disease, and the increasing loss of cattle population poses a threat to the economies of these pastoralist areas of the country where more than 80pc of the camel population is found.

About 40 people in Somali and 158 in Oromia have contracted the disease from the camels either through prolonged contact or consumption of meat or milk, revealed a new report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this week. No human casualties have been reported thus far, while 35 of the 40 people hospitalised in the Somali region were discharged. Symptoms in humans include diarrhoea, fever, and vomiting.

"Although the people have been affected by the disease, no one has died," Yimer Mulugeta (DVM), director of bacterial parasitic and zoonotic research at the Institute, confirmed to Fortune.

The disease first surfaced in late May in the Rayitu and Legeda weredas of Bale Zone in Oromia Regional State. It has since spread to the Afder Zone and Kibir Baya and Babile weredas of the Somali Regional State. Officials at the Institute reported that the disease has different variants from those observed in the past, including trypanosomosis, sleep-sickness most prevalent camel disease in Ethiopia, affecting three percent of herds.

The unidentified disease mainly affects adult, pregnant and lactating camels, with those infected showing symptoms such as bleeding from the mouth and nose, high fever, watery eyes, and difficulty breathing. Once infected, a camel has a high chance of succumbing to the disease within 48 hours, according to Mohammed Mahmmud (DVM), animal health director in the Regional State.

The disease has killed around more than 4,400 camels in Afder Zone, where an estimated 650,000 camel are found, disclosed regional authorities. This is a number far higher than officials at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute reported. According to the Institute, about 500 camels died in the Somali state, while the disease claimed the lives of 800 camels in Oromia.

A group of researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture, National Veterinary Institute, and EPHI have been dispatched to the affected areas to conduct investigative research, provide antibiotics, and create awareness among the residents there.

"Laboratory examinations are carried out at EPHI," said Wubshet Zewude (DVM), director of disease prevention and control at the Ministry of Agriculture.

He conceded that there had been little progress made except for identifying the cause of the disease as a bacterial infection.

In general, diseases affecting camels and animals are understudied and unidentified due to shortages of adequate laboratories, experts in the sector say. Although agreements to work with countries like Saudi Arabia and China for veterinary health made, they are yet to be implemented.

There aren't trained professionals who are tasked with investigating the outbreak of animal diseases in a continuous manner, according to Demeke Wondimagegn (DVM), a veteranarian with over a decade of experiance.

"It would not be difficult to identify the outbreaks and provide immediate response had the government encouraged the deployment of trained vets close to where the cattle population is found," said Demeke.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 26,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1104]

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