Homemade Vaccines in Africa, Then and Now

Homemade vaccines, or autoinoculation against virulent diseases, both for livestock and for people, has – and continues to be practiced – in Africa.  And, as seen in the following picture, early uses of small-pox vaccination in Europe were viewed with great suspicion.

Edward Jenner at the Smallpox Inoculation Hospital, St Pancras, 1801. Source -  Wiki

Edward Jenner at the Smallpox Inoculation Hospital, St Pancras, 1801. Source – Wiki

As described below, I also make a vaccine for a very contagious virus called ‘soremouth’ or ‘orf‘, here in Burundi, that attacks goats. I would never recommend doing this without expert medical assistance; it is a dimension of human and livestock care that continues to be found where health services are poor or nonexistent (like here in Burundi).  My excellent veterinary colleagues in South Africa have provided necessary information.

Here are some examples across Africa of autoinoculation for people and for livestock.:

Abd Salam Shabeeny, An Account of Timbuctoo and Housa Territory…1820

In Housa Territory, northern Nigeria

 …They inoculate for the small-pox; the pus in put into a dried raisin and eaten.

Baker, Samuel – The Albert N’Yanza, Great Basin of the Nile, 1863

In Latooka territory, southern Sudan:

The small-pox broke out among the Turks. Several people died; and, to make matters worse, they insisted upon inoculating themselves and all their slaves; thus the whole camp was reeking with this horrible disease. Fortunately my camp was separate and to windward.I strictly forbade my men to inoculate themselves, and no case of the disease occurred among my people, but it spread throughout the country. Small-pox is a scourge among the tribes of Central Africa, and it occasionally sweeps through the country and decimates the population.

If Sir Baker thought that his people did not contract small pox because he forbade autoinoculation, that is not likely the reason. He also forbade contact with those having Small Pox.- which was likely the reason.

Contemporary – in Egypt, Sudan and Burundi:

When I was working in Eastern Egypt and Sudan with the Beja tribes, and also when working in western Sudan south of el-Obeid, Bedouin populations in both of these areas commonly made their own vaccines and inoculated their camels for different diseases. The vaccines did work, though not all of the time. There were no veterinary services in these areas, and so no alternatives.

Here in Burundi, we had quite a virulent outbreak of ‘soremouth’, or ‘orf’ – which is technically called ‘caprine contagious ecthyma.’ In industrialized countries there are vaccines, but not here. However, with the help of veterinarian colleagues , I made my own for our herds, and this method I teach in training courses that I give to vets and technicians on ‘low resource’ methods of caprine care. It is very easy, very effective, and similar to the methods still used by Bedouin tribes in Egypt and Sudan:

An advantage to inoculates made for specific herds in specific areas, is that they are very good at eliminating the problem in that area. However, using the vaccine in another area or with other animals often does not work because of variations in the virus.

Two goatlings and their mother in our goatherds who are suffering from soremouth – before we began homemade inoculations.

Making a vaccine:

Take bits of the lesions ( not more than a teaspoonful, easy to break off if it is orf) and crush this with a little saline in a pestle and mortar ( or just between 2 spoons) and add a few drops of injectable antibiotic (e.g. penicillin / streptomycin if available) just to keep bacteria in check . Strain through muslin and your vaccine is ready. It lasts months in the fridge, especially if frozen or freeze-dried.

Apply by excoriating (scratching) the skin on the inner thigh or other suitable area, not the face or legs, until you just see serum or a speck of blood oozing out. This ensures that the vaccine will come into contact with the circulatory system and thus the RE system which mounts the immune response. Now just apply a dab of the homemade vaccine onto the scratched site.

In a few days there should be a little inflammation, maybe even a little swelling and scabbing, and after a week or so the animal will be immune for life.

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Abd Salam Shabeeny, Africa-General, Burundi, Explorers & exploration, Health, Livestock, Living here, Samuel W. Baker and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Homemade Vaccines in Africa, Then and Now

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