By Naomi Marks
New year may be a fading memory but we’re still in reflective mood at Livestock Livelihoods and Health. As we approach the end of January not only are we looking forward to our own annual meetings, we also have a chance to review our progress and plan for next phases of the programme in a series of meetings in Tanzania.
These include a series of project-specific meetings involving LLH partners, as well as the second annual conference bringing together all the projects funded, like us, by the Zoonoses and Emerging Livestock Systems (ZELS) programme. This will be hosted by LLH together with the ZooLink project in Kenya.
In this, we’ll have another opportunity to consider how things have gone to date, only this time on full view to our funder and counterpart projects.
The ZELS meeting has taken massive organisation, spearheaded by our research manager, Mary Ryan with great support from our Arusha-based administrator, Dassa Nkini, and ZooLink manager Christine Mosoti. Participants are arriving from across the world, including Bangladesh, East Africa, Ethiopia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the UK and Vietnam.
The months of logistical hard work should pay off when not only do we get an opportunity to reflect on our work with the benefit of external feedback but, if the first ZELS conference is anything to go by, we also learn practical lessons from each other and forge valuable new links.
All this matters: zoonoses – diseases passed from domestic or wild animals to people – are estimated by the World Bank to have cost more than US$20bn in direct costs globally between 2000 and 2010, with a further US$200bn in indirect costs. It is a big development issue, as well as one which causes immense misery at a human level.
Data and sample collection
Our work, looking at zoonoses in Tanzania, really upped a gear last year. Quantitative and qualitative data and sample collection work was intense. To give you an idea of the activity level, here are a few figures: more than 600 patients arriving at a rural hospital were screened for our study, blood samples were collected from more than 7,000 cattle, sheep and goats, and more than 1,000 faecal, meat and carcass samples were taken from cattle and goats.
Scores of cattle traders, butchers, informal and formal cooked-meat sellers, slaughter-slab operators and others in the meat supply chain were interviewed, and more than 300 farming households surveyed to learn about their livestock management and food handling surveyed.
But while this field activity is impressive, it’s the insight that we gain from analysis of the samples and data that is significant.
Blood sampling at Endulen Hospital, where we helped establish a febrile surveillance platform last year, is showing that the Brucella species most commonly found in patients is Brucella melitensis, a species whose principal hosts are goat and sheep. At the same time, the PCR-based tests set up at our Zoonoses Lab at Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute are picking up positive Brucella results in sheep and goat samples.
These results are changing the way we think about how best to prevent and control brucellosis in Tanzania. There is now a clear interest in small ruminants as a potential target for disease control measures.
These results also reinforce earlier modelling studies that suggested that sheep and goats are the more likely source of human brucellosis exposure than cattle in northern Tanzania. These aspects of the project demonstrate how data-driven modelling approaches and sampling-driven laboratory approaches can both complement and support each other.
Qualitative work too has been intense. Both key informant interviews (those carried out on a one-to-one basis) and focus groups (guided discussions involving groups of usually eight to 12 people ) have been used to explore livestock practices and livestock management at both community and household levels, as well as to assess the risks associated with livestock management, disease-based risks and changing land-use patterns within communities. These social science methods are also helping us understand local people’s own knowledge and awareness of disease and their traditional ways of disease prevention and treatment.
While there is still much analysis to be done here, already it’s clear how the movement of livestock, for example for grazing or for sale at market, is a key factor in driving disease risk in animals and people. Exactly how and to what degree this is will be a focus of the work of the disease drivers project this year.
A short multimedia research update detailing these and other findings can be found on our Shorthand story, From the field.
A significant moment this year was the inaugural One Health Day, an international campaign co-coordinated by the One Health Commission, the One Health Initiative and the One Health Platform Foundation.
The key understanding behind One Health – that human, animal and environmental health are inter-related – is gaining ever-increasing traction and it was a great honour for us to have five of our partners participating in an important Tanzanian Government-led workshop concerned with the implementation of Tanzania’s One Health Strategic Plan. Dr Gabriel Shirima, from the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, gave a poster presentation on the work of the LLH programme there.
Doing first-class research and seeing the evidence from our research inform the policy process is key and in these respects 2016 was undoubtedly a fruitful one.
In other respects too – in capacity building (we held many successful training courses), in forming new collaborations, in communicating our work to a wider audience, and in developing and integrating the PhD training of several UK and Tanzanian students within the programme – we can look back on 2016 with a sense of achievement.
It is time now for data analysis to take centre stage. We look forward to the further insights and understanding that will be revealed by the integration of these analyses, and taking this forward towards more effective control of zoonoses in Tanzania.
Naomi Marks manages the communications for the Livestock, Livelihoods and Health programme.