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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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Khan: Boko, Masisi are fake politicians

18th January 2021
Masisi & Boko

While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.

Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.

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Ookeditse rejects lobby for BPF top post

18th January 2021

Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.

Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.

Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”

“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.

He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.

He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.

According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.

There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.

Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.

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BDP cancels MPs retreat

18th January 2021
President Masisi

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.

“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication.
The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.

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