Maasai father and son tend to their cattle in Kenya

Maasai father and son tend to their cattle in their paddock in Kitengela, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Zoonoses account for 60% of human diseases, but traditional divisions between human, livestock and environmental health sectors undermine their control. This has led to calls for greater intersectoral cooperation through an approach known as One Health.

The cover story of the December 2014 – January 2015 issue of CTA’s Spore magazine focuses on the One Health approach to tackling zoonoses and highlights some examples of One Health research by the Food Safety and Zoonoses program at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Read the Spore article, Together in sickness and health

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming of western Kenya

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming of western Kenya. Many smallholder farmers in western Kenya are taking advantage of the growing demand for pork to keep free-ranging pigs as a commercial enterprise (photo credit: ILRI/Pye-Smith).

Many people are familiar with the use of global positioning system (GPS) technology as a security measure to track the movement of vehicles, mobile phones and sophisticated high-tech gadgets and assets.

But researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the International Livestock Research Institute are using GPS technology to track the movement of a different kind of asset that, though not motorized or electronic, is nonetheless of great value to resource-poor farmers in rural western Kenya: free-ranging domestic pigs.

In western Kenya, as in many parts of the developing world, rural households keep pigs under extensive, low-input systems where the animals are left free to roam and scavenge food outside the homestead.

Such low capital investment production systems enable smallholder farmers to benefit from pig production by taking advantage of the growing demand for pork, especially in urban areas.

It is well known that irrespective of the production system under which they are kept, pigs can be the host of a variety of disease-causing microorganisms.

However, pigs that are left to roam freely and scavenge food have a much higher risk of picking up diseases and infections like the pork tapeworm and African swine fever and passing them on to other domestic and wild animals as well as to people.

Understanding the movement patterns of free-ranging pigs in a rural setting can help animal health researchers develop effective disease control policies for smallholder pig production systems, based on a better understanding of the patterns of disease transmission within populations of free range pigs.

The results of a year-long pig tracking study carried out in Busia, western Kenya between March 2011 and February 2012 are now available in the March 2013 issue of the open access journal BMC Veterinary Research.

The pigs were fitted with GPS collars that tracked their movements and recorded their location coordinates every 3 minutes for one week. The location data were then transmitted to a central GPS server for analysis. Blood samples were also collected from the pigs to check for infection with gastrointestinal parasites.

“This is the first study to use GPS technology to collect data on the home range of domestic pigs kept under a free range system and the data will give us new insights into the behaviour of free-ranging pigs in a resource-poor setting,” the authors say.

The study found that the free-ranging pigs spent almost half their time outside their homestead of origin, travelling an average of 4,340 metres in a 12 hour period.

This result shows that with respect to pathogen transmission, the village environment beyond the farm matters just as much as the environment on the farm itself.

In addition, the researchers found that free range domestic pigs spend a lot of energy while foraging and this reduced their potential for weight gain and economic benefit to their owners.

This is because the sale price is normally pegged on the live weight of the pigs: a heavier pig translates into more cash for the farmer.

“The movement data can also be combined with information on ration formulation and daily weight gain to provide farmers with advice on how to change their animal husbandry practices to improve the profitability of pig production,” the authors conclude.

Read the abstract here

Citation: Thomas LF, de Glanville WA, Cook EA and Fèvre EM. 2013. The spatial ecology of free-ranging domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) in western Kenya. BMC Veterinary Research 9: 46. doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-46

Find out more about the Zoonotic and Emerging Diseases Research Group which is led by co-author Eric Fèvre.

Poultry seller in a 'wet market' in Indonesia

A woman sells live ducklings in a ‘wet market’ in Indonesia (photo credit: ILRI/Christine Jost).

On 10–11 January 2013, over 50 international experts from science, policy, the media and academia met at Sussex University for a workshop to discuss what recent controversies can teach us about possible future responses to pandemic influenza outbreaks.

The workshop, convened by the Economic & Social Research Council STEPS Centre and the Centre for Global Health Policy, examined in depth why controversies have emerged around pandemic flu, in order to inform future approaches.

Veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Mariner represented the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) at the workshop as an invited panellist speaking on experiences with participatory surveillance in control of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

Mariner said that HPAI has largely settled down to become endemic in those countries with dense and complex poultry populations and faded out from countries that were not very well suited to sustained transmission.

“The HPAI control programs had little impact in changing the epidemiological course of evolution of the epidemic, and the response to HPAI to large extent ignored key lessons from previous successful disease control activities,” he observed.

“The emergency response approach led investments to have limited sustained impact as they did not address the fundamental institutional issues and the limited capacity of host-country services to absorb the large amounts of money allocated,” he added.

In conclusion, Mariner proposed that in the future, pandemic preparedness should focus on long-term capacity building rather than short-term emergency responses.

Access the workshop report here

Cattle herded home in the evening in Mozambique

Cattle coming in from the fields in the evening in Lhate Village, Chokwe, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

A group of research experts associated with the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium have called for a system-based ‘One Health’ approach to help catalyze better preparedness and surveillance that are informed by cross-disciplinary approaches.

One Health is a globally recognised approach established to promote the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines, working locally, nationally and globally, to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.

Writing in an Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Rapid Response Briefing titled Zoonoses – From Panic to Planning (January 2013), the researchers also note that One Health could help “accelerate research discoveries, enhance the efficacy of response and prevention efforts, and improve education and care”.

However, realigning policy to embrace One Health requires a shift in focus from the current disease-centred approach to one that considers the whole system and takes into account human health, animal health and ecosystems.

Over two-thirds of all human infectious diseases have their origins in animals. The rate at which these zoonotic diseases have appeared in people has increased over the past 40 years, with at least 43 newly identified outbreaks since 2004. In 2012, outbreaks included Ebola in Uganda, yellow fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rift Valley fever in Mauritania.

Zoonotic diseases have a huge impact – and a disproportionate one on the poorest people in the poorest countries. In low-income countries, 20% of human sickness and death is due to zoonoses. Poor people suffer further when development implications are not factored into disease planning and response strategies.

A new, integrated ‘One Health’ approach to zoonoses that moves away from top-down disease-focused intervention is urgently needed. With this, we can put people first by factoring development implications into disease preparation and response strategies – and so move from panic to planning.

The briefing is lead authored by Delia Grace, veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). She leads ILRI’s research team on animal health, food safety and zoonoses as well as a research component on prevention and control of agriculture-associated diseases under the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Citation: Grace D, Holley C, Jones K, Leach M, Marks N, Scoones I, Welburn S and Wood J. 2013. Zoonoses – From panic to planning. IDS Rapid Response Briefing 2. IDS (Institute of Development Studies), Brighton, UK.

Boran cattle at Kapiti ranch in Kenya

Boran cattle grazing at Kapiti ranch in Kenya. The Zoonotic Disease Unit in Kenya will use One Health approaches to improve prevention and control of zoonoses (photo credit: ILRI).

The One Health approach for the prevention and control of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted between animals and humans) was institutionalized in Kenya following the official launch of the country’s Zoonotic Disease Unit in Nairobi on 3 October 2012.

The occasion also featured the launch of the strategic plan for the implementation of One Health in Kenya. The strategic plan has the following three goals:

  • To strengthen surveillance, prevention and control of zoonoses in both humans and animals
  • To establish structures and partnerships that promote One Health approaches
  • To conduct applied research at the human-animal-ecosystem interface in order to better understand the mechanism of maintenance and transmission of zoonotic pathogens

The Zoonotic Disease Unit is the first of its kind in Africa and will serve as a model for the region in implementing innovative and integrated approaches to investigate outbreaks of zoonoses towards improved disease surveillance, prevention and control.

The Unit was set up in 2011 by the Ministry of Livestock Development and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation with the main objective of establishing and maintaining active collaboration at the animal, human and ecosystem interface towards better prevention and control of zoonotic diseases.

The United States Department of State Biosecurity Engagement Program, the United States Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supported the Government of Kenya in the establishment of the Zoonotic Diseases Unit.

The implementing partners include the African Union – Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

For more information, please visit the website of the Zoonotic Disease Unit at