Climate change, insecurity major hindrance to tsetse fly control

Dr Christopher Wanga, Director of Livestock Policy Research and Regulations, State Department for Livestock Ministry of Agriculture responds to questions from journalist on September 18, 2023. [Courtesy]

Climate change and wars in sections of Sub-Saharan Africa have slowed down the efforts to eliminate tsetse flies and African Trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness, experts have said.

Dr Hiver Boussini, the Senior Animal Health Unit of the African Union-InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources said drastic climate changes have contributed to sudden increase in tsetse flies in some areas or migration from one place to the other.

The doctor was responding to questions from journalists during the ongoing five-day 36th General Conference of the International Scientific Council for Trypanosomiasis Research and Control (ISCTRC) hosted in Mombasa.

He said where there is insecurity, people and animals move in masses- at times moving with the insects and the disease- that claims at least 50,000 lives every year in Africa.

In Kenya, as the country awaits the El-Nino rains, the numbers of the tsetse flies might increase, but the Kenyan Government has assured it is ready for any eventuality.

Boussini said Climate change effects have also seen areas that were known as tsetse free areas fall victim. 

his sentiments were echoed by Director of Livestock Policy Research and Regulations, State Department for Livestock in the Ministry of Agriculture Dr Christopher Wanga who urged Kenyans living in tsetse prone areas to have enough stockpile of controlling insecticides.

“El-Nino will be associated with abnormally higher amounts of rainfall. The tsetse flies will benefit by having more forested areas growing. They thrive very well in forested areas,” he said.

While reiterating the rains will result in growth in numbers of tsetse flies, Wanga said incidents where there are more tsetse flies than individual farmers can tackle, the government will intervene.

“The Government can quickly mobilise vector control products to support eradication because any disease that goes beyond homesteads, cannot be left to farmers,” he said.

Prof James Wabacha, an Animal Health Expert said the conference will help review the existing strategies to eliminate the disease, and seal any existing loopholes.

More than 300 participants from across the world are attending the conference.

“This challenge cannot be tackled by one single country. It has to be tackled regionally and continentally. It is a transboundary issue,” he said.

Wabacha said the participants who include eminent scientists and disease control workers will also review policies that are in place in an effoprt to identify any gaps.

“This team will then make recommendations to member states on how to address the gaps,” he said.

 AU-IBAR Senior Programs and Project officer Dr Anne Lewa said various countries will share their different experiences in tackling tsetse and Trypanosomiasis.

“Our utmost result from this workshop is knowing the level each country is and such, the level the continent is, and therefore coming with a clear roadmap on the activities we shall undertake,” she said.

The ISCTRC Conference serves as a platform for knowledge exchange on tsetse, human, and animal trypanosomiasis, and aims to review existing control strategies while suggesting appropriate research and control approaches.

The conference anticipates several positive outcomes, including disseminating critical information on trypanosomiasis, strengthening networks among researchers and control workers, offering recommendations for research and control activities for the next two years, enhancing capacity for research and control, and elevating the visibility and recognition of Kenya's role in combating this disease.

This vital meeting, held biennially, plays a pivotal role in improving tsetse and trypanosomiasis control, particularly in rural communities where the impact is most severe.

The conference will also see recommendations adopted by the Council to guide research and control efforts for the next two years.