Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Anthrax: Gruinard to Magumwi

At the mention of that word most of us will think back to Gruinard Island on the North of Scotland where the British Government in 1942, as part of a biological warfare experiment, contaminated the soil in the island with virulent anthrax spores, making it uninhabitable for people and animals for over 60 years. Some poor hapless sheep were apparently tethered to a pole and anthrax bombs were detonated to gauge the effect on them and from that to assess the effects on the population: British, were the Germans to use it and; German, were the British to use it. Unsurprisingly, it was considered too dangerous to use because of its virulency and the durability of the spores. Thankfully the island was decontaminated after public protests around 20 years ago.

Here in Bulozi (Western Province), anthrax is still very much alive and killing. The Lozi are a cattle-keeping people and the cow has a very special place in their culture and mythology. In Silozi there are very few of what we would call adjectives. There are only about 30 words that English-speakers could term ‘adjectives’. To supplement this lack extensive use is made of relative clauses. Of these adjectives almost half of them are to do with the colour of cattle. What is also unusual are these cattle-skin colour adjectives have a male and female form!

So cattle are still very much used as symbols of affluence and prestige. 'Don’t put your money into banks, buy cattle' is the counsel given here. However, there is still a very conservative and reactionary reluctance to dip or inoculate cattle. There is also very little attempt at selective breeding to improve beef or milk yield or any other specialism; so nature is allowed to take her course.

Anthrax has broken out along the Machile floodplain and it is a struggle to contain it. The communities of Magumwi, Machile, Sankulonga, Bototo, Simenso and Mabumbu are all affected.  The estimated cattle population of these areas alone is 15 000 and the human population in the region of 20 000. There have been 47 confirmed cattle deaths another 420 suspected. There are now 5 confirmed cases of anthrax in the Hospital. It is important to educate people that these diseased cattle should be buried and not butchered for consumption, as opening them up may release more spores and also allows the blood to contaminate the soil.

It is impossible to get the cattle vaccine locally, the major objective is to stop the disease spreading further in both the human and cattle populations. Fortunately Ida is in Lusaka to buy the vaccine and with a whip-round amongst American vets and supporting Churches, Ruairidh has managed to obtain the funding for the inoculation of the 15 000 cattle which will cost K6m (GBP850).

The Government Vet Department is grossly under-resourced, financially and with staffing. Ruairidh was told it would take the Government 6 weeks to get the inoculation programme organized and into action. Mr Siyafumba, the Chief Vet Officer here, was ordered into the field to collect samples without gloves, masks or overalls. It is in situations like this that the Church, you realize, is providentially blessed with the appropriate gifts, knowledge and skills and that it is able to partner with the Government and the civil authorities to meet the needs of the people and their communities, needs which otherwise would not and could not be met.  

Since we are on an agricultural and human development slant this week the Jesuit Centre for Social Justice here issued a report on Zambia and progress towards Millennium Development Goals and it does not make for happy reading. In Sub-Saharan Africa only 3 countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Zambia) now have a lower development index than they had in 1970 in the areas of health, education and income.
Some progress has been made with Primary Education but Higher and Tertiary remain a cause for concern.

Bulozi is the least developed province of Zambia. The following information came as a surprise to us and will give you an idea of how far the Province needs to go to develop in one area alone. Bulozi has a population of just under one million. The UCZ Mission Agricultural Project is the sole producer of farmed fish, one of two producers of layers and pigs and is the largest producer of broilers in the area. All organic and humanely raised.

Bernard Matthews eat your heart out!!

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