Uganda scientists develop poultry vaccine

Dr Nantulya, one of the scientists who developed the vaccine shows how to use it. Stephen Otage

What you need to know:

Many poultry farmers in Uganda lose their chicken to a host of diseases but Newscastle disease is the most deadly as it is rampant. Now, a vaccine is available to put the disease at bay

Where he comes from, when a child is born, the elders would give him or her a hen. When it laid eggs, hatched them, and the chicks grew, they would be bartered for goats. When the number of goats increased, they would be exchanged for a calf.

Dr Vinand Nantulya explains that the essence of this tradition is that as the child grows, he or she would learn to take care of their own farm, and use the earnings to meet various needs.

What informed the research

“I come from a rural background with parents who did not go to school but appreciated education. They gave me all the support I needed,” Dr Nantulya recalls. He learnt to appreciate the culture but his frustration was that more often than not, the chicken would succumb to fowl diseases. In particular, the seasonal infectious outbreaks of Newcastle disease.
It is caused by a virus and is 100 per cent fatal in chicks and 60 to 90 per cent in adult chicken.

This is the background that informed Dr Nantulya’s research on veterinary diseases, which would later influence his career.
After 45 years of service in various positions and international postings, he returned to Uganda. He partnered with Dr George Mukiibi to form Brentec Vaccines Company in 2009. “I carried this childhood story. I am a medical doctor who didn’t fully practise but developed interest in veterinary vaccines. This is the link to help farmers out of poverty by [dealing with] the diseases that threaten their [livestock],” he says.

The pair has successfully developed a vaccine, called Kukustar, against Newscastle disease and are set to roll it out in September. This is a step in the effort to tackle other livestock diseases.

“There is no treatment anywhere in the world for Newcastle disease. What we have is preventive. The vaccine is not a medicine. It is not for treating Newcastle disease. It is for protecting chicken, which are not yet infected. If your chicken have started dying, don’t buy the vaccine because it is too late,” Dr Nantulya warns.

How it was done
He adds: “Every year, there are outbreaks of Newcastle disease, which claim the poultry. We intend to set up a manufacturing plant to produce vaccines for livestock diseases. We have started with this vaccine and we shall continue as times goes on.”

The study took the researchers 16 weeks. According to Dr Nantulya, a sample of 50 birds was identified and 30 of them vaccinated with a single dose of Kukustar. These were put in a separate unit while the other 20 did not receive the vaccine.
Fourteen weeks into the experiment, 15 of the vaccinated chicken were taken back to the same unit as those that did not receive the vaccine.

The unit was then infected with Newcastle disease-causing virus. The 15 vaccinated birds remained symptom-free as the others that were kept as a control unit.
Two weeks after the infestation, all the 20 birds, which had not been vaccinated, died.

After this trial, other samples were taken for tests at Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine and the results were positive after eight months of observation.
The vaccine later passed the National Drug Authority and African Union Centre of Livestock tests. After this, it was taken to Mbale District for a pilot trial.

With successes registered, the company has the capacity to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine in a year. But, for the start, their target is 50 million this year. The farmers can now access the vaccine at Shs100 per dose per chicken.
“We have established a plant. Our dream is to go big. We can produce vaccine for 100 million birds per year. Our next stage is introducing other poultry vaccines and to make vaccines for goat and cattle diseases,” he says.

All is well...
Given the expenses of putting up structures like laboratories, Uganda Industrial Research Institute offered to host the company under its business incubation programme. But Dr Nantulya says they should be able to acquire their own home in two years’ time.

So far, $1.5m (about Shs5.2b) has been invested in the research. This included ensuring that the lab meets international standards, procuring the right equipment and recruiting 10 staff, who were trained to develop the standard operating procedures.

“The problem with our banks is that their interest rates are too high. You can’t do business that way. If loans had friendly interest rates, we would have started long ago but we are looking at investors,” Dr Nantulya shares his frustration but all is well that ends well.

About the vaccine and how to apply it
Advantages of vaccine
Unlike imported vaccines which you have to carry in ice, the Kukustar vaccine is stable at room temperature. It can last for four days after it has been mixed. When it is still in its powder form, it can last 30 days. This minimises losses as many farmers neither have a source of electricity nor refrigerators.
• It is a live vaccine
• Does not cause any illness.
• Not harmful to human beings; you can even slaughter and eat the chicken after injecting the vaccine
How to administer the vaccine
A box has 20 vials with 5,000 doses. Get one vial, which has the vaccine in powder form and mix it with water. Use a dropper to apply the vaccine on chicken’s eye. This is protective for four months, after which you vaccinate again. But if there are many birds, you use can do it through water. However, it should not be tap water because it contains chlorine, which destroys the vaccine.
If you must use tap water, boil to evaporate the chlorine. Otherwise, it is advisable to use spring water.