ICT and AI can help prevent, control cattle diseases in Zimbabwe Artificial intelligence

Jacqueline Ntaka

THEILERIOSIS is a devastating disease that affects cattle and other bovines in Zimbabwe, especially in the Matabeleland South Province. 

It is caused by a protozoan parasite called Theileria, which is transmitted by ticks. The disease causes fever, anaemia, lymph node enlargement, and respiratory distress in infected animals, and can kill up to 90 percent of them. The disease poses a serious threat to the livestock industry and food security in the country, as farmers have lost 12 000 cattle to the disease in two months.

The current methods of controlling and treating theileriosis are not sufficient to prevent such massive losses. These methods include isolating infected animals, using acaricides to kill ticks, treating animals with drugs, and immunising them with live vaccines. However, these methods have limitations such as high cost, environmental impact, resistance, and side effects. Moreover, these methods require adequate infrastructure, trained personnel, and timely diagnosis, which are often lacking in rural areas.

Therefore, there is a need for innovative and sustainable solutions to combat theileriosis in Zimbabwe. One of the promising avenues is the use of information and communication technology (ICT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the prevention, detection, and management of the disease. 

ICT and AI can enable the collection, analysis, and dissemination of real-time data on the prevalence, distribution, and risk factors of theileriosis and ticks. For instance, mobile phones, drones, and satellites can be used to capture and transmit images and information on the health status and location of cattle and ticks.

 AI can then process and interpret this data using machine learning and computer vision techniques, and generate alerts and recommendations for farmers, veterinarians, and authorities.

The two can also facilitate the rapid and accurate diagnosis of theileriosis and the appropriate administration of drugs. 

For example, portable devices, such as smartphones and tablets, can be equipped with sensors and software that can detect the signs and symptoms of the disease, such as temperature, blood count, and lymph node size. 

AI can then analyse this data and provide a diagnosis and a prescription. Furthermore, ICT and AI can help to monitor the response and adherence to treatment and to adjust the dosage and duration accordingly.

ICT and AI can also assist in the implementation of effective and efficient strategies to prevent and control theileriosis and ticks. The two can help to identify and target the most vulnerable and affected areas and populations and to optimise the allocation and distribution of resources, such as acaricides, drugs, and vaccines. 

Moreover, ICT and AI can help to educate and empower farmers and communities on the best practices and behaviours to prevent and control the disease, such as regular inspection, dipping, and vaccination of cattle, and removal of tick habitats.

Without a doubt, theileriosis is a serious challenge for Zimbabwe’s livestock sector and food security, and it requires innovative and sustainable solutions. 

ICT and AI can offer such solutions by improving the surveillance, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and control of the disease and its vectors. However, to realise the full potential of ICT and AI, there is a need for more investment, research, development, and collaboration among stakeholders, such as farmers, veterinarians, researchers, policymakers, and ICT and AI experts.

Jacqueline Ntaka is the CEO of Mviyo Technologies, a local tech company that provides custom software development, mobile applications and data analytics solutions. She can be contacted at: [email protected].

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