Lab to Help Diagnosis of Animal Diseases Using Nuclear-Derived Techniques Opens in Botswana

Following the opening of the Jwaneng veterinary diagnostic laboratory, farmer Jospeh Wakala will receive the results of routine animal laboratory tests within days, rather than weeks. This will make it easier for him to take action, should any pathogens be identified. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Jwaneng, Botswana – Botswana’s first-ever rural veterinary disease diagnostic laboratory, opened here last week, will contribute to food security, nutrition and increased beef exports through the use of serological, molecular, nuclear and nuclear derived techniques for the early and rapid diagnosis of various animal diseases.

The satellite laboratory, which is located at the edge of the famous Kalahari desert, will eventually serve farmers in the western third of the country. It will use equipment donated by the IAEA. It will bring veterinary diagnostic services closer to farmers, thus improving disease control, said Chandapiwa Marobela-Raborokgwe, head of the Botswana National Veterinary Laboratory at the inauguration ceremony of the new laboratory on 8 July. “Early and accurate diagnosis of transboundary and endemic diseases is paramount for disease control, and having a robust surveillance regime in place is necessary for the maintenance of our export markets,” she said.

Beef is the most important agricultural export commodity in the country, which has 3 million cattle and 1.6 million goats for its 2 million people. The European Union is the largest and most lucrative market for Botswana’s beef.

Sending samples to the national laboratory in the capital Gaborone contributes to delays in turnaround time for testing and providing farmers with the results. Also, sometimes samples arrive in substandard condition and are no longer fit for analysis, Marobela-Raborokgwe said. The country’s Ministry of Agriculture has therefore decided to open satellite labs in different parts of the country, bringing services closer to farmers.  “This is key to fighting disease,” said Emmanuel Adom, Principlal Veterinary Officer of Botswana’s Southern District, which includes Jwaneng. “We will pick up any emerging diseases more quickly.”

Technicians of the Botswana National Veterinary Laboratory perform tests following the inauguration of the country’s first satellite veterinary laboratory in the southern town of Jwaneng. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Staff in the new labs will perform the basic and first-line tests. If the results are positive and a disease is suspected, they will send samples for confirmatory diagnoses to the national laboratory.  A similar satellite lab in Maun in northwestern Botswana is scheduled to open next year, and the Ministry hopes to eventually set up one in the northeastern part of the country as well.

With the new lab and quicker turnaround time, farmers will be more likely to report sick animals. “If I get the results within days and can actually take action based on them, I am more likely to ask for testing,” said Joseph Wakala, who runs a farm with over 200 cattle outside of Jwaneng.

The IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has supported the country’s national veterinary laboratory since 2009, helping compliance with European Union testing and surveillance requirements. The IAEA, through several technical cooperation projects, has provided equipment, reagents, expert advice and training for laboratory staff.

The IAEA and the FAO helped the lab build capacity in the use of nuclear and nuclear-derived technologies to quickly diagnose animal and zoonotic diseases, which have the potential to spread from animals to people. One of these techniques, the Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), amplifies a single copy or a few copies of a specific DNA sequence to millions of copies that can then be easily detected and identified. This nuclear-derived molecular diagnostic technology allows detecting diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, rinderpest and peste des petits ruminats (PPR) by enabling a rapid and accurate detection of the pathogens and its type and possible origin within a few hours.

Last update: 17 July 2016