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UB student fashions Lumpy Skin Disease vaccine

If you’ve never heard of Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), or ‘nkokomane’ in Setswana then you’re probably not a farmer. Nkokomane is a horror to cattle breeders, once a farmer identifies the abnormal growths on a cow’s hide which characterise LSD there is very little that can be done.


The best defence for this disease is prevention. In 2013 Kelvin Phiri, a biologist and student at UB, knowing too well the impact the disease has on a valuable sector of Botswana’s economy began research on developing a vaccine. Though the disease can cause death of livestock, it is often not the case. It deals the most damage by lowering the value of affected cattle. Cows with LSD become thin and frail and will require attentive nursing for their continued well being.


Regardless of the type of care diseased cattle receive they still yield lower quantities of beef compared to healthy animals.  Infected cows will also produce significantly lower yields of milk and are at constant risk of becoming lame. Though a study is yet to be carried out to quantify the monetary loss due to the disease in Botswana, experts speculate that an annual loss ranging in the millions is not unlikely.


Different types of vaccines for the disease are already commercially available. However the cost of a single dose makes their purchase difficult for a subsistence farmer. Also the vaccines are owned by foreign companies who are at liberty to charge exorbitant prices for a remedy cattle breeders cannot do without.  In light of the expense of foreign vaccines Phiri worked on developing cheaper locally owned immunisation, in this endeavour he had the support of the Botswana Vaccine Institute (BVI) who had a keen interest in seeing the success of his research.


In developing a cheaper form of inoculation, which Phiri casually named UBVax, he decided to use plants to grow the virus which would be processed to make the vaccine. Traditionally viruses for vaccine production are grown in chicken eggs, this is part of the reason they are expensive. The method Phiri was able to develop once fine tuned for commercial production will reduce the cost of a single dose by more than 500%.


UBVax has gone through several trials against commercial vaccines. From the first trial with guinea pigs it has shown undeniable efficacy. Though all the guinea pigs were destroyed at the end of the trial the results indicated no long term adverse effects. The destruction of the guinea pigs is a general necessary scientific precaution to prevent accidental spreading of viruses.

Phiri admitted to going beyond his comfort zone when he travelled to Sedibeng for cattle trials. With his lab coat packed neatly away in the lab at UB he got his hands dirty dosing cattle with vaccines. The cattle trial lasted three months and UBVax was compared to two different commercial vaccines.


UBVax was observed to have a greater initial effect but the protection it gave diminished over time. This suggested that future work on the vaccine would require consideration of booster doses for long term protection. Phiri jokingly admitted to being disappointed that the trial cattle were not killed for a braai but he was immensely pleased with the results he had obtained.


Phiri concluded the work on his thesis on Wednesday with a power point presentation. The University of Botswana alongside BVI will continue to look into improving UBVax and Phiri believes in two to three years a cheap locally produced vaccine will be available to cattle breeders in Botswana and beyond. Though he admits it probably won’t be called UBVax then.


The work Mr Phiri has done will earn him a PhD and for that he is grateful to the University of Botswana for empowering him. In his gratitude he should not be alone; UB has not only helped him but countless farmers as well.

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Ministers key to Masisi presidency revealed

7th December 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has identified at least 12 cabinet ministers who form part of his long-term plans owing to their loyalty and tenacity in delivering his vision. Masisi, who will see-off his term in 2028 — provided he wins re-election in 2024 — already knows key people who will help him govern until the end of his term, WeekendPost has learnt.

Despite negative criticism towards ministers from some quarters over a number of decisions and their somewhat cold deliberations and failure to articulate government programs, Masisi is said to be a number one cheer leader of his cabinet. He is said to have more confidence in his cabinet and believes going forward they will reach the aspired levels and silence the critics.

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Free at last: Ian Kirby Speaks Out

6th December 2021
Justice Ian Kirby

The outgoing President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ian Kirby, shares his thoughts with us as he leaves the Bench at the end of this year.

WeekendPost: Why did you move between the Attorney General and the Bench?

Ian Kirby: I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers three times- first in 1969 as Assistant State Counsel, then in 1990 as Deputy Attorney General (Civil), and finally in 2004 as Attorney General. I was invited in 2000 by the late Chief Justice Julian Nganunu to join the Bench. I was persuaded by former President Festus Mogae to be his Attorney General in 2004 as, he said, it was my duty to do so to serve the nation. I returned to the Judiciary as soon as I could – in May 2006, when there was a vacancy on the High Court Bench.

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Civil society could rescue Botswana’s flawed democracy’ 

6th December 2021
Parliament

Botswana’s civil society is one of the non-state actors that could save the country’s democracy from sliding into regression, a Germany based think tank has revealed.  This is according to a discussion paper by researchers at the German Development Institute who analysed the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes In Botswana.

In the paper titled “E-government and democracy in Botswana: Observational and experimental evidence on the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes,” the researchers offer a strongly worded commentary on Botswana’s ‘flawed democracy.’  The authors noted that with Botswana’s Parliament structurally – and in practice – feeble, the potential for checks and balances on executive power rests with the judiciary.

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