Thermostable Peste des Petits Ruminants Vaccine Commercially Available for the First Time
For millions of smallholder farmers around the world, small ruminants – sheep and goats – provide a vital source of food, income and security. Threatening this, however, is a devastating and highly contagious livestock disease known as peste des petits ruminants (PPR), or sheep and goat plague. As one of the world’s most damaging livestock diseases, PPR spreads rapidly through herds, killing anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of those infected and placing the livelihoods of farmers and their households at significant risk.
First identified in Côte d'Ivoire nearly 80 years ago, PPR continues to threaten an estimated 2 billion heads — 80 percent — of the global sheep and goat population in more than 70 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. While concerted global efforts to eradicate the disease have resulted in the development of vaccines over the decades, reaching farmers’ remote and often inaccessible locations with these life-saving PPR vaccines has been costly and logistically difficult.
Overcoming barriers: Nepal at the forefront in global fight
Overcoming these barriers is the focus of an innovative partnership between Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a USAID-funded program that builds partnerships with the private sector to deliver agricultural innovations to smallholder farmers, and Hester Biosciences Nepal Private Limited (Hester Biosciences). Through this partnership, Hester Biosciences is now the first private sector firm to produce a thermostable version of the PPR vaccine, originally developed at Tufts University in the United States, that offers transformative potential to end the spread of the disease in Nepal and beyond.
The new vaccine is thermostable, as per protocols established by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Center of the African Union (AU-PANVAC), and can withstand a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to five days, eliminating the need for a constant cold chain from production to distribution and offering the transformative potential to stop the spread of the disease.
This is promising news for Nepal’s smallholder households, which collectively raise 12 million goats and sheep, as well as for more than 300 million rural households globally. The new vaccine holds the potential to reduce PPR disease among small ruminant herds, which often provide an affordable entry point to livestock ownership and a way for smallholder farmers and female-headed households to diversify their income.
Under the partnership, Hester Biosciences has completed the transfer of thermostable production technology from Tufts University and has received all regulatory approvals from the Government of Nepal required to produce, distribute and sell the vaccine in Nepal and abroad. The company aims to reach 100,000 farmers and vaccinate 400,000 sheep and goats in Nepal by June 2021. To accomplish this, Hester Biosciences will develop a reliable supply chain to sell the vaccine directly to large distributors who store the vaccine in bulk and then sell it on to agrovet retail shops in rural areas. Veterinary technicians and other community actors then distribute the vaccine.
In collaboration with Nepal’s Department of Livestock Services, Hester Biosciences will work with Community-Based Animal Health Workers (CAHWs), an existing network of locally trusted and appropriately trained members of the community who provide affordable veterinarian services in remote areas, to reach last-mile markets. CAHWs will work with Hester Biosciences to learn about the thermostable PPR vaccine, proper storage and vaccination techniques, and safe handling and disposal practices. In turn, CAHWs will share this knowledge and offer PPR vaccination services to existing farmer networks in their villages for a small fee. Using the CAHW network, the vaccine can reach a far larger target market, support the control and eradication of PPR, and improve the resilience of Nepal’s smallholder households.
The distribution of the vaccine, coupled with information about PPR disease, will directly improve the resilience of Nepal’s smallholder households. Lowered mortality and morbidity in small ruminants will make livestock ownership more profitable and feasible for farmers wanting to diversify their livelihoods by rearing ruminants in response to changing climatic and economic conditions. Leveraging the private sector and existing networks for production and distribution of the vaccine will ensure sustainability and continued smallholder access for years to come.
History shows that focused, collaborative efforts across different actors can lead to the end of serious animal diseases on a global level. In recent years, the remarkable achievement of eradicating the rinderpest virus in domesticated and wild animals around the world has proven this.
Now, through the collaboration between Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation and Hester Biosciences, a new vaccine is poised to achieve a similar significant feat by ending the spread of PPR in Nepal and beyond, and providing a vital new tool in advancing the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ PPR Global Eradication Programme (PPR GEP) goal to eradicate the disease globally by 2030.
Webinar — Lessons in Working Towards Global Eradication of Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR)
On December 2, 2020, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation Director Laura Harwig will discuss the program’s innovative partnership with Hester Biosciences as part of a USAID-organized webinar on global eradication efforts of peste des petits ruminants (PPR). To register, visit here.