‘Health is not the absence of disease (and too important to be left to doctors)’–Keynote address

Minoan Bronze Bull Leaper

Minoan bronze bull and bull leaper, from Crete, around 1500 BC (image on Flickr by Ann Wuyts).

Increasing livestock production to meet rapidly growing demands in a socially equitable and ecologically sustainable manner is becoming a major challenge for the Asia-Pacific region. To discuss the challenges and a practical response, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), together with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific (APHCA) organized a Regional Livestock Policy Forum in Bangkok 16–17 Aug 2012.

The Asia and Pacific region has experienced the strongest growth in milk and meat over the last two to three decades. In three decades (1980 to 2010), total consumption of meat in the region grew from 50 to 120 million tonnes, and milk consumption grew from 54 to 190 million tonnes. By 2050, consumption of meat and milk in the region is projected to exceed 220 and 440 million tonnes, respectively. While this growth is creating new opportunities and better diets for many poor people, managing it will be a tall order and involve: stimulating income and employment opportunities in rural areas, protecting the livelihoods of small farmers, improving resource use efficiency at all levels of the livestock value chain, minimizing any negative environmental and health consequences of the growth, and ensuring adequate access by the poor to the food they need to live healthy lives.

The Aug 2012 Regional Livestock Policy Forum was held to find solutions. The 80 stakeholders in livestock development who attended represented governments, research agencies, civil society and multilateral organizations, think tanks, private-sector industries and regional and global networks.

Three keynote addresses highlighted environmental, social and health aspects of uncontrolled livestock sector growth. The director general of ILRI, Jimmy Smith, delivered the keynote on ‘health at the livestock-policy interface’. He described three kinds of health—human, animal and ecosystem—and the close interactions among them. Excerpts of his presentation follow.

Health at the livestock-policy interface: Interdependence

Slide from a presentation made by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith at a Regional Livestock Policy Forum in Bangkok 16–17 Aug 2012.

Livestock and nutrition
‘Livestock provide about a third of human protein. Even small amounts of animal protein greatly enhance the poor-quality diets of very poor people, many of whom subsist largely, for example, on sorghum and millet. But while 1 billion people are hungry, some 2 billiion are over-nourished, which is often attributed particularly to over-consumption of meat.

HEALTH ONE: Livestock and human health
‘Remarkably, 60% of human diseases, and 75% of emerging diseases (such as bird flu), are ‘zoonotic’, or come from animals, and 25% of all human infectious diseases in least-developed countries is zoonotic. A 2012 study led by ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace estimates that the ‘top 13’ zoonoses each year kill 2.2 million people and make 2.4 billion people ill. The same study found that emerging zoonotic diseases are associated with intensive livestock production systems, with hotspots of these being in western Europe and USA, but that the high burden of neglected zoonotic diseases is associated with poor livestock keepers, with hotspots identified in Ethiopia, Nigeria and India.

HEALTH TWO: Livestock health
‘In developing countries, largely in contrast to developed nations, we still struggle to control what are known as ‘transboundary’ livestock diseases, which include, for example, Newcastle disease in chickens and foot-and-mouth disease in cattle. As important, however, are the common endemic diseases of low-income countries, such as parasitic infections, viral diarrhoea, respiratory and reproductive diseases. While we pay considerable attention to transboundary diseases, and emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential, we are neglecting endemic diseases that hurt the world’s poor the most, and which some estimate are even more costly than transboundary diseases.

Health at the livestock-policy interface: Annual losses

Slide from a presentation made by ILRI director general Jimmy Smith at a Regional Livestock Policy Forum in Bangkok 16–17 Aug 2012.

HEALTH THREE: Agro-ecosystem health
‘The downside: As many people are now aware, livestock are a significant source of the greenhouse gases warming our planet; they compete for water with staple grains and biofuels, and their diseases can spill over into wildlife populations. On the upside, livestock manure is an important source of organic matter needed for soil fertility (about 50% of the nitrogen used in agriculture in India comes from manure), permanent pastures are potentially an important store of carbon, and the current carbon ‘hoofprint’ can be greatly reduced through more efficient livestock production.’

Jimmy Smith then laid out some ‘prescriptions’.

Prescriptions for human health

  • Manage disease at its (early animal) source, not when it shows up (later) in humans
  • Invest in ‘one-health’ systems for preventing and controlling zoonotic diseases
  • Promote risk- and incentive-based (not regulatory- and compliance-based) food safety systems

Prescriptions for animal health

  • Support smallholder systems to improve livestock production and productivity
  • Use technology and innovations (e.g., vaccines) to improve animal health services
  • Take a whole value-chain-development (not piecemeal) approach

Prescriptions for ecosystem health

  • Manage externalities
  • Close large gaps in ruminant production
  • Reduce livestock-induced deforestation
  • Manage manure
  • Implement payment schemes for livestock-based environmental services

Advice for policymakers
And Smith had some advice for policymakers.

  • Invest in surveillance (re-incentivize disease reporting)
  • Better allocate resources between emerging and endemic diseases
  • Support innovations at all levels in the health sectors
The livestock director concluded his talk by saying:
It is our belief that we can feed the world, we can do so in environmentally sustainable ways, we can do so while reducing absolute poverty, and we can do so while improving the health of people, animals and the planet.
Health is not the absence of disease’, Smith said, quoting his scientist Delia Grace. ‘And it’s too important to be left to doctors.’

See Jimmy Smith’s whole slide presentation, Health at the livestock-policy interface, 16–17 Aug 2012, and/or watch this 25-minute filmed presentation of his presentation.

See a slide presentation made at the Bangkok Forum, Poverty, food security, livestock and smallholders, by ILRI’s Steve Staal and FAO’s Vinod Ahuja.

Presentations made at the meeting, a detailed program and a list of participants are available here.

Get the proceedings of the whole conference: Asian Livestock Sector: Challenges, Opportunities and the Response — Proceedings of an international policy forum held in Bangkok, Thailand, 16–17 August 2012. Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific, International Livestock Research Institute and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013.

For more information, please contact:
Vinod Ahuja, FAO livestock policy officer, based in Bangkok: Vinod.Ahuja [at] fao.org
Purvi Mehta, Head of ILRI Asia, based in New Delhi: p.mehta [at] cgiar.org


Animal-to-human diseases: From panic to planning–new recommendations for policymakers

Greatest Burden of Zoonoses Falls on One Billion Poor Livestock Keepers

Map by ILRI, published in an ILRI report to the UK Department for International Development (DFID): Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

The UK’s Institute for Development Studies (IDS) has published a 4-page Rapid Response Briefing titled ’Zoonoses: From panic to planning’.

Veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, who is based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), along with other members of a Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, based at the STEPS Centre at IDS, c0-authored the document.

The briefing recommends that policymakers take a ‘One-Health’ approach to managing zoonotic diseases.

‘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 (RVF) 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.

Read the Rapid Response Briefing: Zoonoses: From panic to planning, published Jan 2013 by the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium and funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

About the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa
The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa is a consortium of 30 researchers from 19 institutions in Africa, Europe and America. It conducts a major program to advance understanding of the connections between disease and environment in Africa. Its focus is animal-to-human disease transmission and its objective is to help move people out of poverty and promote social justice.

Over the past few decades, more than 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans have had their origin in wildlife or livestock. As well as presenting a threat of global disease outbreak, these zoonotic diseases are quietly devastating lives and livelihoods. At present, zoonoses are poorly understood and under-measured — and therefore under-prioritized in national and international health systems. There is great need for evidence and knowledge to inform effective, integrated One Health approaches to disease control. This Consortium is working to provide this evidence and knowledge.

Natural and social scientists in the Consortium are working to provide this evidence and knowledge for four zoonotic diseases, each affected in different ways by ecosystem changes and having different impacts on people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods:

  • Henipavirus infection in Ghana
  • Rift Valley fever in Kenya
  • Lassa fever in Sierra Leone
  • Trypanosomiasis in Zambia and Zimbabwe

Of the 30 scientists working in the consortium, 4 are from ILRI: In addition to Delia Grace, these include Bernard Bett, a Kenyan veterinary epidemiologist with research interests in the transmission patterns of infectious diseases as well as the technical effectiveness of disease control measures; Steve Kemp, a British molecular geneticist particularly interested in the mechanisms of innate resistance to disease in livestock and mouse models, and Tom Randolph, an American agricultural economist whose research interests have included animal and human health issues and assessments of the impacts of disease control programs.

Delia Grace leads a program on Prevention and Control of Agriculture-associated Diseases, which is one of four components of a CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. Tom Randolph directs the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. Steve Kemp is acting director of ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme.



New vaccine launched today to protect Kenyan cattle against East Coast fever

Mrs Kivuti and Cow

Mrs Kivuti and her dairy cow in Kenya (on Flickr by Jeff Haskins).

Today is a red-letter day for livestock keepers in Kenya. A vaccine is being launched by the  Kenya Department of Veterinary Services that will help Kenyan farmers protect their dairy and other cattle against East Cost fever. The launch is being held in Kenya’s Kitale town.

For four decades, the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its predecessor (the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, ILRAD) have conducted research on the lethal tick-borne cattle disease known as East Coast fever. ILRI’s work has focused on developing a new-generation ‘subunit’ vaccine, comprising molecular components of the causative parasite, while also developing molecular tools to enhance the quality of an infection-and-treatment (ITM) immunization method, consisting of whole live parasites.

The ITM vaccine was developed first by the former East African Veterinary Research Organisation, at Muguga, Kenya, between 1967 and 1977, now known as the Veterinary Research Centre, which is part of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and which has continued to refine the vaccine.

ILRI produced the first commercial batch of the ITM vaccine in the late 1990s, at the request of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. A decade later, on request from regional stakeholders, ILRI produced a second batch, which is now being used in East Africa. ILRI and KARI also supported Kenya’s Director of Veterinary Services (DVS) in his department’s successful trials that have confirmed the safety and effectiveness of the ITM vaccine, thus making way for the launch of its national distribution today.

Two ILRI scientists, Phil Toye and Henry Kiara, that have been involved in this research for many years are attending the launch. They say that East Coast fever continues to cause major economic and social losses to families in eastern, central and southern Africa.

Of the 46 million cattle in this region almost half are at risk from this disease, say Toye and Kiara.

‘ILRI’s work has focused on better understanding of the biology of the parasite that causes the disease and the host immune responses to infection. While the ITM vaccine was developed in the early 1970s at Muguga, Kenya, the vaccine was not readily taken up due to inadequate understanding of the biology and epidemiology of the diseases at the time.’

Scientists in KARI and ILRI continued to refine the technology to the point where it was deemed safe and effective to distribute the vaccine on a commercial basis to farmers. ILRI will continue working with Directors of Veterinary Services in the region to address any research questions that may arise as we continue to use this technology.

It gives me great pleasure today to congratulate the Kenya Department of Veterinary Services on this great occasion of the launch of the East Coast fever vaccine. ILRI is proud to have played a role in this and will continue to offer any research support needed to keep Kenya’s cattle safe from this deadly disease.—Phil Toye


Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock–Part 3 of ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace

View this ILRI slide presentation, which is a ‘slidecast’ that includes an audio file of a ‘livestock live talk’ given by veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

The following remarks are a transcript of the third part of a presentation made on 31 Oct 2012  by Delia Grace, who works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi. Grace, a Irish veterinary epidemiologist, leads ILRI’s research on food safety in informal markets in developing countries and on ‘zoonoses’—diseases shared by animals and people. Grace also leads a component on agriculturally related diseases of a new multi-centre CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition, which is headed by John McDermott, former deputy director general-research at ILRI, who is now based at ILRI’s sister CGIAR institute the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, USA. Grace is also a partner in another multi-institutional initiative, called Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa.

A prolific writer of scientific publications and a scientist of particularly wide research interests, Grace began her ‘big-picture’ talk on zoonoses—on why, and if, they are ‘the lethal gifts of livestock’—with an overview of human health and disease at the beginning of the 21st century. Go here to read part one:  The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012, and here to read part two: Mapping the perfect storms: Where poverty, livestock and disease meet in terrible triage, ILRI News Blog, 6 Nov 2012.

Here we begin the third and final part of this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ presentation by Delia Grace on ‘The lethal gifts of livestock’.

‘So we’ve talked a bit about the big picture: human health and disease in the 21st century and why livestock matter. I’ve presented some of the findings on these studies, trying to get some evidence—the evidence decision-makers want, in a format they can use, in a way that motivates them to invest money.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: From mapping to managing slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: From mapping to managing, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘But now, finally, I want to talk a bit about how we move from mapping to managing.

‘Mapping is good but there is always the “paralysis by analysis” with such organizations, And it’s true; I was originally trained as a vet and it’s like we spend all our time on diagnosis and we don’t do any therapy; we never get round to actual treatment. I think too much of the work we’ve done so far has been assessing, trying to know more and more, and not saying, “OK, we know enough; let’s go and do something; let’s show that we can do something; and let’s try and make a difference.

‘So in this last section I’m going to talk about how we are planning to move from mapping and measuring to managing. This takes me to the new CGIAR Research Program ‘Agriculture for Nutrition and Health’, which just started in January, like the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which you may be more familiar with.

‘This brings together a lot of CGIAR centres to focus for the first time on the links between agriculture and human health. It’s led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and has four components. Three of these components focus on human nutrition—human nutrition is a big problem and it’s probably where the donors are most interest at the moment. But one component focuses on disease, and that’s the component that’s led by ILRI.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Agriculture-associated diseases slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Agriculture-associated diseases, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘So “agriculture-associated disease” works at that intersection, the intersection between human health, animal health and agro-ecosystems and value chains. We sometimes talk about “one-health”, this new integrated movement. We like to think of three healths: people, animals and the planet—three healths that are interdependent. And if they’re managed separately, they won’t be managed best.

‘The aim of this component on disease is to have key development implementors as well as the enablers to have the evidence, motivation and capacity. So we need somehow to generate evidence, motivation and capacity, motivation probably being the tricky one, to reduce the burden of disease through agricultural-based interventions and innovations. And that’s key, because of course this whole area of innovation and human health is a very crowded, busy map. We need to identify where agricultural research and agricultural-based interventions can make a difference.

‘So what do we focus on? We focus on big five areas, which we call research activities. Two of them are under food safety, the first being risk management in these informal food markets, where most poor people buy and sell; the second being mycotoxins, which are a fungal toxin in staple crops. And then under “zoonoses”, we have three major focuses: the first being emerging infectious disease, the second neglected zoonoses, and the third “eco-health/one-health”, which is a kind of capacity-building paradigm.

‘Cross-cutting disease and appearing in all of them is a focus on gender and equity. Gender is quite important in disease because it’s both a biological and a social determinant of exposure and vulnerability to disease Equity likewise—poverty, age, other issues can very much affect susceptibility and vulnerability. The second is capacity building; this is key to change and we mean capacity building at all levels, from decision-makers to the science community to the actual farmers and value chain actors. Of course, we won’t be doing that directly; that’s not our comparative advantage. But we can develop pilot tools and new approached that can then be taken up by the development sector. And, third, communication and influence.

How do we get these messages out? How do we move from outputs to outcomes? And how do we show how those outcomes can contribute to impact?

‘There are some key assumptions or hypotheses. These are based on five to ten years’ work. At the same time, they’re not written in stone; they’re things we need to generate more evidence about. And many people would disagree with some or all of these.

‘So, first of all is that the informal food markets are the most important for poor buyers and consumers and will be—no ‘supermarketization’ here–and will be into the next few decades, at least in the countries we care about, where there are the most poor people.

Current food safety regulation is ineffective and unfair; we know it; we know it can even be paradoxical; we know it can make things worse. It’s kind of like the Somalia story—once you’ve got rid of the government, you’ve removed the first constraint to export. We find in many cases, these food safety regulations brought in to make things better make things worse. The way forward we believe is through risk- and incentive-based approaches.

‘The second main areas and the second main hypothesis is that these rapidly intensifying and urbanizing livestock systems are something the planet has never experienced before at this level and this rate, and it really does have the potential to bring about something very nasty. We talked at the beginning of great societal dislocations, of the Neolithic transition, of these massive plagues that wiped out ninety per cent of the population. I’m not saying it’s a fact, it may not even be probable, but it’s certainly something that cannot be ignored.

‘And at the moment, we are woefully ignorant of the disease dynamics and drivers and emergence of what’s going on in these new, novel, never-before seen systems, especially around South Asia, Southeast Asia and parts of the peri-urban areas of African cities. Here we think innovative surveillance—I showed you the surveillance we’ve got, 920,000 dead, 80,000 reported—so here we need innovative surveillance and whole-chain interventions. These are product-driven, demand-driven, rapidly emerging value chains and we need to work with the chain, not just work here and there in a piecemeal approach, as we have done in the past.

‘Our third big area are the cold spots. We sometimes emphasize the hotspots. These are places that are bubbling up, rapidly changing, doing strange things, lots of innovation going on, lots of possibility for thing to pop out of the cooking pot. But then we also have the cold spots, the neglected zoonoses, the pastoral areas, where you still have hundreds of millions of people cut off from markets, cut off from these emerging rapid opportunities, getting poorer and poorer, digging themselves deeper into poverty. And for these people, they’re the ones who are bearing the burden of these neglected zoonoses.

‘Take cysticercosis; you don’t have cysticercosis anymore in Vietnam, where you’ve got rapidly growing, highly innovative pig keepers. You get it in places in Uganda, where pigs are still scavenging and people don’t use latrines. So these people are still suffering from neglected zoonoses that have been eradicated everywhere anyone has got enough money and will power, and they’re symptoms of poverty, really; they’re symptoms of the whole complex. This is not a place for silver bullet approaches; this is a place for integrated approaches—taking a community wide, a gender approach, an equity approach—that deals with all the symptoms and not just the disease.

‘So those are our assumptions and how those assumptions affect what we’re going to be working on as we try and see how agriculture can do its little bit to help manage these diseases.

‘I’m going to give you a few examples before we finish and close for questions.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 1 slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 1, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

So here is one highlight. One thing we’re doing this year is conducting rapid integrated assessments of food safety, zoonoses and nutrition in five high-potential CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish value chains. This Livestock and Fish program has made the decision to focus on nine value chains in the whole world and really transform them, bring all of research with development partners to really change these value chains to move millions of people out of poverty. And these value chains are pre-selected as being one of these hotspots I’ve been talking about—rapidly changing, rapidly intensifying, lots going on. The Livestock and Fish program cares about production; they care about increasing productivity. They’re not necessarily thinking about the externalities of this, that they might unleash new diseases on the world, or make lots and lots of people sick by giving them more and more pork that is full of salmonella and trichomonas and things like that. So we see an added value of food safety working with those value chains, not just those in the Livestock and Fish program but in all the CGIAR research program value chains. And also, in many of these areas, food safety is not a standalone concern but if we can piggyback it on lots of other activities, then we can make it go further. Just a quick example—well, no I won’t. But ask me about pigs in Uganda sometime; it’s rather scary.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 2 slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 2, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘The second highlight I mentioned before and I won’t go into it now but how this mapping and measuring we’re doing of the hotspots is already starting to inform donor agendas and we also want to be part of that funding, if we can be, to help manage what we have measured and mapped.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 3 slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Highlight 3, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘And the third highlight is how these integrated approaches have started making a difference. And these highlights are things the whole of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition has done during the year:
(1) Publishing special editions on urban zoonoses.
(2) Starting a new project on how the pathogens flow in Nairobi, from the abattoir to the dumps to the slums to the hospitals to the ILRI campus, and back and forth.
(3) Eco-health, one-health—we set up and are supporting two new centres in Southeast Asia and we’re looking at the barriers and bridges for governments doing things differently.
(4) Rift Valley fever—how does climate change and irrigation cause disease to jump around? We think it does; we want to know how.
(5) Pathogen hunting, here in our biotechnology facilities there’s a big pathogen hunting facility and now bio-repository. What are the implications of these new diseases getting into new systems?
(6) We’re integrating; instead of doing everything separately, we’re putting human and livestock disease surveys. We’re doing that in Kenya, Laos, Vietnam, China. There are some maps from Laos.
(7) Developing and testing new diagnostics; one thing main here has been for cysticercosis.

‘So in conclusion, here are my take-home messages. This is what I’d like people to think about.

‘First, here and now, the burden—the human sicknesses and deaths caused by neglected zoonoses—is much, much higher than that caused by emerging diseases. And most are very manageable. Moreover, the pareto law applies of the vital few and the trivial many. So these are places we can and must act to alleviate human misery.

‘Second, emerging infectious diseases are not so scary by themselves. But when you get a great societal dislocation, then they can be civilization-altering. And are we farming on the brink of chaos? We don’t know. It’s important that we find out, because this is one of the big questions for humanity’s future. Moreover, if societal dislocation is the missing ingredient X that nobody is talking about, we need to think about that, not just the disease.

‘And my final point is that agricultural research has an important role in integrative approaches to improve human health, animal health and the health of the planet.

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: Bibliography slide

Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock: bibliography slide, by Delia Grace, ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ seminar, 31 Oct 2012.

‘And here I just list some of the various chapters and papers that this presentation was based upon and where you can get more information if you are scared or skeptical or anything like that.

‘I’d like to acknowledge the mapping and spillover work, which is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and done with partners from different institutions, and the team leading the component on Agriculture-Associated Diseases of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, whose work I’m representing across food safety, mycotoxins, emerging infectious diseases, zoonoses and eco-health, and the many people who have supported us. And with that, I’ll hand it over to questions and to Tezira Lore to moderate.’

This ends the third and final part of the seminar by Delia Grace.

Part one of this seminar is here: The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012. Part two is here: Mapping the perfect storms: Where poverty, livestock and disease meet in terrible triage, ILRI News Blog, 6 Nov 2012.

View the slide presentation, which is a ‘slidecast’ that includes an audio file of the presentation by Grace: Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock, an ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

Read the invitation to this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’, and sign up here for our RSS feed on ILR’s Clippings Blog to see future invites to this new monthly seminar series.


India’s booming livestock sector: On the cusp?–Or on a knife edge?

Jimmy Smith and Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (left and right) with dairy farmer being interviewed by media in Haryana, India

On 4 Nov 2012, an ILRI delegation of 28 visited the village of Araipura, in the Karnal District in the Indian state of Haryana, where they held discussions with dairy farm families. Above are ILRI’s director general Jimmy Smith (left) and ILRI’s Asia program head Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (right) at a media interview of Anil K Srivastava (middle), director of India’s premier dairy research organization, the National Dairy Research Institute, based in Karnal. ILRI’s management team and board of trustees also visited the main campus at National Dairy Research Institute, at Karnal. These field visits preceded a meeting of ILRI’s board and management in New Delhi on 5–6 Nov, followed by an ILRI-ICAR Partnership Dialogue on 7 Nov 2012. (Photo credit: ILRI)

A partnership dialogue organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) on livestock, research and development was held yesterday (7 Nov 2012) in New Delhi.

India’s booming livestock sector
With 485 million livestock and 489 million poultry, India ranks first in global livestock population. Livestock keeping has always been an integral part of the socio-economic and cultural fabric of rural India. In recent years, India’s livestock sector has been booming. India has become the leading exporter of buffalo beef and it has turned from a milk-deficient nation into the world’s largest dairy producer, accounting for close to 17% of global production.

While the contribution of agriculture to the country’s GDP continues to fall with industrialization, the contribution of the livestock sector to India’s agricultural output only continues to increase. Livestock now contribute 28% of the output of the agricultural sector and the sub-sector is growing at a rate of 4.3% a year while that for the agricultural sector as a whole is growing at just 2.8% a year. Last year, India’s livestock sector output value was estimated to be over USD40 billion—more than all grains combined.

With over 80% of livestock production being carried out by small-scale and marginalized farmers, the benefits livestock generate for India’s poor are enormous and diverse. But while livestock are a prime force in this country’s economy and the well-being of hundreds of millions of its people, the sector has not yet been given the level of attention it warrants.

Livestock are both central to India’s development and a threat to it
Environmental impacts: While millions of people in India are benefiting from better incomes and nutrition due to livestock, there are great environmental and public health risks associated with the country’s livestock sector. For starters, India’s projected spike in demand for milk and meat—176% by 2025—will have tremendous impacts on the environment; already, for example, global livestock production accounts for up to one-fifth of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

Zoonotic diseases: And India’s fast-growing human population and resulting increasing animal-human interactions, combined with changing environmental conditions and inadequate sanitation and regulation, have made India one of the world’s top hotspots for livestock diseases, including zoonotic diseases—those that pass from animals to humans and which make up 75% of all human diseases. Controlling zoonoses is particularly important in developing countries, where the absolute burden of these diseases is up to 130 times greater than in rich countries. An ILRI global report released in July of this year, Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, ranked India near the top of the list globally for the highest burden of zoonoses—in terms of both absolute numbers of those infected with zoonoses and the level of intensity of the  zoonoses infections.

Classical swine fever, a highly contagious pig disease, poses a threat to rural farmers in India’s northeastern states of Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland—80% of whom keep pigs and 46.6% of whom identify pig farming as the most promising source of income. ILRI’s research has shown that nearly USD40 million in income is lost to the disease annually in these three states. As a result of targeted advocacy at the national ministry level, the government is allocating new funds for dealing with classical swine fever.

India’s Operation Flood, which started in the 1970s, has helped to increase national milk consumption by 30% over the last two decades. However, 80% of all sold milk is still marketed by informal traders, often perceived as unreliable, which discourages the investment into more productive animals and better inputs. What should India be doing to reach those farmers still living on the margins and who have yet to reap the benefits of India’s milk boom?

Livestock ‘goods’ and ‘bads’: The roles of livestock globally–both positive and the negative—must be better understood, particularly why researchers and policymakers must draw a distinction between the developed and developing world when it comes to the future of livestock. The current public debate on livestock is dominated by concerns of the developed world on the negative environmental and health impacts of livestock. Experts at ILRI argue that this one-sided focus can leave the poor as victims of generalizations and justify the neglect of research needed to improve the sector’s environmental performance and management of disease risks, especially in parts of the world where the benefits of livestock, which provide most poor household’s with livelihoods, regular incomes and good nutrition, outweigh its problems.

The ILRI-ICAR Partnership Dialogue
Among those who led the Partnership Dialogue from ILRI are Jimmy Smith, a global expert on livestock production for developing countries who heads up ILRI in Nairobi, Kenya, and Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, who is head of ILRI’s Asia program and based in New Delhi. All of ILRI’s international board of trustees and senior management participated in the Dialogue, as well as the director general of ICAR, the directors of ICAR’s animal science institutes and several vice chancellors and deans, with a total of 12 countries represented. The high-level meeting was inaugurated by MS Swaminathan, India’s foremost geneticist renowned for his role in India’s ‘Green Revolution’, member of India’s parliament and chairman the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation. The Dialogue was ably facilitated by S Ayyappan, director general of ICAR and secretary of the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, and KML Pathak, deputy director general of animal sciences at ICAR.

Leaders in government, non-governmental, research and private-sector organizations made presentations and three thematic sessions generated discussions on smallholder dairy and small ruminant value chains, animal health and animal feed and nutrition. A high-profile white paper will be produced from the proceedings of this dialogue to distill the major recommendations made and serve as a basis for pro-poor and sustainable livestock policy interventions in the country.

Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Jimmy Smith, a Canadian citizen, was born in Guyana, in the Caribbean, where he was raised on a small mixed crop-and-livestock farm. He was appointed director general of ILRI in April 2011. Before joining ILRI, Smith served for five years at the World Bank, leading the its Global Livestock Portfolio. Before that, Smith held senior positions at the Canadian International Development Agency (2001–2006). Earlier in his career, Smith had worked at ILRI and its predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (1991–2001). At ILCA and then ILRI, Smith was the institute’s regional representative for West Africa, where he led development of integrated research promoting smallholder livelihoods through animal agriculture and built effective partnerships among stakeholders in the region. At ILRI, Smith spent three years leading the CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Programme, an association of 10 CGIAR centres working on issues at the crop-livestock interface. Before his decade of work at ILCA/ILRI, Smith held senior positions in the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (1986–1991), where he embarked on his career supporting international livestock for development. Smith holds a PhD in animal sciences from the University of Illinois, at Urban-Champaign, USA.

Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, head  of ILRI Asia
Purvi Mehta-Bhatt is the head of ILRI’s work in Asia and is based in New Delhi, India. Mehta-Bhatt has been involved in many capacity development, outreach and technology transfer initiatives in India and around the world and brings over 16 years of experience in designing and implementing capacity development and stakeholder networking interventions. As director of Science Ashram in India from 1997 to 2005, she worked with more than 60,000 farmers and as country coordinator for the South Asia Biosafety Program. She serves on the board of several organizations, including the International Centre for development-oriented Research in Agriculture, the International Association of Ecology and Health and the Roadmap to Combat Zoonosis in India.

Read more about the ILRI-ICAR Partnership Dialogue on ILRI’s Clippings Blog:  Lessons from India’s smallholder dairy successes can help developing world–ILRI’s Jimmy Smith, 8 Nov 2012.

Mapping the perfect storms: Where poverty, livestock and disease meet in terrible triage

The following remarks are a transcript of the second part of a presentation made last week by Delia Grace, who works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi. Grace, a Irish veterinary epidemiologist, leads ILRI’s research on food safety in informal markets in developing countries and on ‘zoonoses’—diseases shared by animals and people. Grace also leads a component on agriculturally related diseases of a new multi-centre CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition, which is headed by John McDermott, former deputy director general-research at ILRI, who is now based at ILRI’s sister CGIAR institute the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, USA. Grace is also a partner in another multi-institutional initiative, called Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa.

A prolific writer of scientific publications and a scientist of particularly wide research interests, Grace began her ‘big-picture’ talk on zoonoses—on why, and if, they are ‘the lethal gifts of livestock’—with an overview of human health and disease at the beginning of the 21st century. Go here to read part one:  The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012.

Here we begin part two of this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ presentation by Delia Grace on ‘The lethal gifts of livestock’.

Getting a handle on why zoonotic diseases matter, to whom and how much
‘So, we’ve discussed the links between livestock and disease and why livestock play such an important role in human disease. The next question we have to ask is to try and put some details on this, to put some parameters on it. So, if disease matters, and if animals have a big role in disease, what disease matters? How much? To whom? What does it cost? And what can we do about it?

‘In thinking through this, we tend to think at ILRI of different categories, which help us get more of a handle on some of the details. So we talk about the neglected zoonoses; these are the diseases like TB, brucellosis, cystercicosis—diseases that have been eradicated anywhere people have money and care, but persist—hang on—in poor countries. We talk about emerging infectious diseases—the BSEs, the SARS, the bird flus, Rift Valley fever, blue tongue—diseases that are changing their patterns and becoming more important. Then the food-borne diseases are the other big category. This is the single-most important. If you’re interested in human health and human death, food-borne diseases are the single-most important category. And finally, there are the other health risks in agro-ecosystems: How we farm and what this means for our health and nutrition.

Let the mapping begin
‘I now want to talk about some recent work we did on mapping poverty, zoonoses and emerging livestock systems in order to get a better handle on some of these questions about why it matters, who it matters to, how much it matters, and what we should or could do about it.

‘I’m going to present some work that was commissioned by DFID [the UK Department for International Development]. These were two systematic reviews that DFID asked us to do. The aim of these was to present data and expert knowledge on poverty and zoonoses hotspots in order to prioritize areas, to target areas, where prevention of zoonotic diseases can bring the greatest benefits to poor people.

‘This study took us down some interesting paths and some interesting conclusions. I’m going to talk about them in a little bit of detail.

‘So, the methods. What we wanted to do was to update global maps of poor livestock keepers. The first ever global map of poor livestock keepers was produced by ILRI around 10 or 15 years ago, again commissioned by DFID. This, I would say, was a landmark map. We also wanted to map rapidly emerging livestock systems. And here we drew a lot again on ILRI’s expertise, especially Mario Herrero’s group, which have been doing a lot of big-picture work on changes in livestock systems—what’s happening, where it’s happening and why it’s driving change. We also wanted to update one of the most iconic maps for people in the zoonoses community, and this is the map by Kate Jones on emerging infectious diseases that appeared in Nature about ten years ago (and everywhere else since).

‘We wanted to identify which were the most important zoonoses for poor people. You’d think that we’d know that, but what we find is that we have a dozen definitions and none of them agree. And then, finally, we wanted to develop the first global mapping of where zoonoses, poverty and emerging [livestock] systems come together to make hotspots, for maximum investments, for maximum bang for the buck.

Where are the poor livestock keepers?

Density of poor livestock keepers (updated 2012)

Update in 2012 by ILRI’s Delia Grace of map by ILRI’s Phil Thornton showing density of poor livestock keepers (map credit: ILRI/Philip Thornton).

‘Here is the updated map of poor livestock keepers. I think you can see by looking at it that it’s focal. The dark areas represent high density. South Asia jumps out at us. And in Africa we see the ‘magic 7’, from the coastal regions of West Africa to Nigeria and up through the highlands of Ethiopia and right down the Rift Valley through Uganda and northern Tanzania and right down to Malawi.

‘So what can we say in our updating of poor livestock keepers?

One billion poor livestock keepers depend on 19 billion livestock. Most of the livestock in the world are owned by poor people: 24 billion in total in the world and 19 billion in poor countries. That’s a lot of opportunities for disease to spill over, 19 billion animals.

What’s more, the ‘parietal law’, the law of ‘the vital few and the trivial many’, applies. Just 4 countries have 44 per cent of poor livestock keepers. All countries are not equal.

‘Livestock matter a lot: 75% of rural people, and 25% of urban people, depend on livestock. Now ‘depend’ is one of those weasel words that we keep being asked to shine more light on. We don’t know enough—it’s amazing how little we know despite how important this is—but our best guess for now is that when we say ‘depend’ we mean that livestock contribute between 2 and 33% of household income and 6 to 36% of protein. It’s not trivial.

Where are the fast-evolving livestock production systems?

Change in poultry production
Change in pig production
2012 maps showing changes in poultry and pig production between 2000 and 2030 (map credit ILRI/Delia Grace).

‘The second map we updated was these emerging livestock systems. As we suspected, most emergence is happening in the monogastrics, the pigs and the poultry. And of course this has been known since the landmark papers on the livestock revolution. Our maps confirm this; we’re getting a lot of change in pigs and poultry, and again it’s focal; you can see that it’s not uniform.

‘So in summary, where are we getting massive, rapidly changing systems? Big changes in numbers? Big changes in baselines? Where do we have people who don’t have a lot of experience doing this sort of farming now doing it in a big way? (Once you get naïveté along with massive intensification, you get problems.)

Poultry in several places on all continents, bovines in South and East Asia, and pigs in sub-Saharan Africa. These are the rapidly emerging livestock systems.

Where are the emerging infectious diseases?
‘Next, we updated the emerging infectious diseases map. This was a study that was originally done by Jones et al. based on all emerging diseases from 1940 to 2004. What we wanted to do was to focus just on zoonotic diseases (the 75% of all human disease that are zoonotic) and also to update it with data from 2004 to 2012.

Emerging Zoonotic Diseases Events 1940-2012

Map by IOZ, published in an ILRI report to DFID; Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots 2012.

‘All of these dots represent new, potentially scary, diseases. The bigger the dot, the more the outbreaks. The new diseases are the blue circles; they are the ones that happened in the last ten years. The brown are the old; those are the ones that happened in the 70 years before. Again you can see a pattern here, but it’s not the same pattern we saw in the other map.

‘What we see is that western USA and western Europe are the hotspots for disease emergence. There’s a reporting bias in here, but we believe that this is not just reporting bias but actually represents emerging events. Interestingly, the blue events, the new events, are more common in South America and Southeast Asia, as intensification takes off in these regions and start to look more like intensive [livestock] systems of the West.

Multiple disease burdens are ‘where it’s at’
‘So, what are the high-priority zoonoses? We were interested in multiple [disease] burdens. One of the things we believe leads to bad management of zoonoses is that it’s done sectorally; it falls between lots of chairs. The World Health Organisation thinks about the human burden. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization thinks about the animal burden. Other people think about the wildlife burden. But people too rarely get together and think about the multiple burden.

What isn’t measured isn’t managed. And we think that one great step forward is just having people think about multiple burdens. So our listing, our criteria, consists of looking at the burdens across human health, animal health and ecosystems health.

‘From lots of listings, we assessed 56 zoonoses and found that together they caused a lot of problems. But the ones that were most important tended to have a wildlife interface, had a major impact on livestock and were amenable to on-farm agricultural interventions.

Top zoonoses calculated by ILRI's Delia Grace in 2012

Slide of ‘top zoonoses’ from ‘livestock live talk’ presentation, ‘Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock’, made by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012.

‘Just to give you some idea of the numbers, there are about 600 zoonoses and we looked at the top 50. Of that top 50, this is the human death caused by the top 13 and that by the next 43. Again, I think you can see it’s a case of the vital few and the trivial many. If you’ve got scarce resources and care about human death, you invest in the top 13, not in the bottom 43.

And here it is just broken out by individual zoonoses, and even in that top 13, you can see that there’s a difference between big killers and little killers. And sometime the ones we hear most about—and worry most about—are the ones that kill least.

‘The first thing we did then was to go to official reporting systems to try to find out where these zoonoses were and how these linked to the other things we were mapping. There are several reporting systems. There’s one by OIE [World Organisation for Animal Health], which is ‘notifiable’, that is, every OIE member has to report all their animals that die of notifiable diseases (you’d think that was easy enough). There’s also one run by FAO, and there’s Pro Med, there’s GEWS, and there’s Health Map, which is an aggregator.  That a picture of Health Map, and it’s a pretty exciting innovation. A ‘bot’ trawls the web and captures all the information on diseases.

When we put all of these [official disease reporting systems] together, what we found was that they were completely useless. They told us almost nothing about the burden of diseases. They told us about exciting things, interesting things. When a kid in Buenos Aires got bitten by a rabid dog, that showed up here. But when we were interested in what is sickening and killing billions and millions of people, it was just hopeless.

‘Just to give you an example, Africa has about 250 million tropical [aggregated] livestock units; we know that around 25 million of them die prematurely every year. We estimate around half of those deaths are due to notifiable diseases. There are over 60 notifiable diseases and pretty much everything falls into these. And what’s reported? Say 10 million dead, 80,000 reported.

This isn’t just under-reporting; this is a reporting system that is not very helpful!

‘So we couldn’t use the official reports. And it’s a huge weakness. People go along blindly and mechanically collecting this data, sending it in to OIE, doing complicated analyses showing all the different effects and impacts of these diseases, but they fail to take into account that they’re only looking at the 80,000 that are reported, and not the 920,000 that are not reported. It’s sort of an exercise in futility.

‘So what we did instead was a systematic literature review. We found that the only way we could get some sort of handle on where these zoonoses are was just to keep looking through the literature, pulling it out—grey, white, published, local language—and get as many surveys as we could and geographically map them and see what they are doing. In fact, we got over a thousand studies, which was enough to get some sort of a spatial understanding.

Greatest Burden of Zoonoses Falls on One Billion Poor Livestock Keepers

Map by ILRI, published in an ILRI report to DFID: Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, 2012.

‘This is what we came up with. Where you see a dot is where 1 or more people or animals in 100 are affected by 1 or more diseases per year. At least a 1%, at least 1 in 100 are sickened or killed. The dark colour shows where the poor livestock keepers are. Again, you can see the ‘7’ in Africa, whereby the zoonoses are linked to the poor livestock keepers. You can see quite a bit in South Asia and some in Southeast Asia.

‘There is a definite link between livestock keeping and poverty, which is what we suspected, but here again there is a lot of under reporting.

An unlucky 13 zoonoses sicken 2.4 billion people and kill 2.2 million people and they affect more than 1 in 7 livestock each year. These numbers are not trivial. These are large numbers, large numbers of sickness and death.

Our zoonotic problems are big problems

Multiple burdens of zoonoses calculated by ILRI's Delia Grace in 2012

Slide of ‘multiple burdens of zoonoses’ from ‘livestock live talk’ presentation, ‘Zoonoses: The Lethal Gifts of Livestock’, made by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012.

‘As I said, we focused on multiple burdens of  zoonoses, and here are some. I won’t read through them in detail, but again, going across all of these surveys, the numbers are frighteningly high. Round about 10% of animals have brucellosis, which is a serious disease in people, causing ungulant fever, infertility in men; it can cause psychosis and depression. And it’s transmitted in milk. If you don’t boil your milk, 1 in 10 animals has brucellosis. Ten per cent of animals in Africa have tryps [African animal trypanosomiasis], reducing their productivity by 15%. With 250 million livestock units, say they’re worth USD500 each, and you reduce their productivity by 15%—we’re talking large numbers here. TB, cysticercosis, bacterial food-borne disease, all of these came up.

‘The bad news is that it’s there and it’s a big problem in animals as well as people. The good news, of course, is that this provides incentive-based ways of tackling some of these zoonoses. Because if you can manage your animal zoonoses and boost your productivity by 10 or 20%, there’s a strong incentive for you to do it. What we’ve found with these studies (and we’ve been doing a lot of them over the years), is that too often the human health attitude is that people should do this because it’s good. You should do it to protect your own health. You should do it to protect the consumer’s health. That is one of the weakest motivations of all. How many things do we not do even though we know they’re good for our health? And how many fewer things do we do if they’re not good for our health but they’re good for someone else’s health?

Give people incentives, not rules, to better manage disease
‘What we find in these informal markets, where regulation is a joke and you have a hundred vets in a country and a hundred million animals, there’s no point in regulations or officials telling people “You should do this because it’s good for you”. It has to be incentive-based. People have to see a real benefit from changing their behaviour, either in their pocket or in their social status. And it doesn’t have to be money. We found people will change their behaviour just as much if they can get a social kick out of it. If instead of being a low-status person they get to be a high-status person, they’ll change their behaviour.

‘So, in summary what did we find? There are definite [zoonotic] hotspots, which is good, because that’s what the donor wanted  because that’s where the donor wants to invest. This is also a nice example of how science can generate evidence that is asked for by a donor and then influences donor behaviour, so it’s a virtuous cycle.

Where the ‘perfect storms’ lie
‘Poor livestock keepers? South Asia is the biggest. Emerging livestock systems? Again, South Asia. Zoonotic emerging infectious diseases? Western Europe and USA. Zoonoses? South Asia and central and eastern Africa.

If we are to name six countries where all of these come together, where you get the ‘perfect storm’ conditions, they are India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in Asia; Ethiopia, Nigeria and Congo in Africa.

‘So we’ve talked a bit about the big picture, human health and disease in the 21st century and why livestock matter. I’ve presented some of these findings of our mapping studies trying to get some evidence: the evidence that decision-makers want in a format they can use, in a way that motivates them to invest money.

‘But now, finally, I want to talk a bit about how we move from mapping to managing. . . .’

This ends part two of the seminar by Delia Grace. Look on this ILRI News Blog for part three in a couple of days’ time.

Part one of this seminar is here: The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock, ILRI News Blog, 4 Nov 2012.

View the slide presentation, which is a ‘slidecast’ that includes an audio file of the presentation by Grace: Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock, an ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

Read the invitation to this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’, and sign up here for our RSS feed on ILR’s Clippings Blog to see future invites to this new monthly seminar series.

The riders of the apocalypse do not ride alone: Plagues need war, famine, destruction–and (often) livestock

Albrecht Dürer

a presentation made last week by Delia Grace, who works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi. Grace, a Irish veterinary epidemiologist, leads ILRI’s research on food safety in informal markets in developing countries and on ‘zoonoses’—diseases shared by animals and people. Grace also leads a component on agriculturally related diseases of a new multi-centre CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Health and Nutrition, which is headed by John McDermott, former deputy director general-research at ILRI, who is now based at ILRI’s sister CGIAR institute the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in Washington, DC, USA. Grace is also a partner in another multi-institutional initiative, called Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa.

A prolific writer of scientific publications and a scientist of particularly wide research interests, Grace began her ‘big-picture’ talk on zoonoses—on why, and if, they are ‘the lethal gifts of livestock’—with an overview of human health and disease at the beginning of the 21st century.

'livestock live talk' 31 Oct 2012: Delia Grace listens to a question

Regarding diseases, it’s not the past we have to worry about, says ILRI scientist Delia Grace; it’s the diseases we’re picking up and the lifestyle choices we’re making (picture credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘At the moment we are 7 billion people and by 2050, we’ll probably be 9 billion.

To date, farming is not doing a very good job of feeding us or looking after our health. We have 1 billion people who are hungry, 2 billion people who suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, or micronutrient deficiencies (iron, vitamins, minerals), and we 1.5 billion people who are overweight or obese. All in some ways functions of a dysfunctional agricultural system.

‘Not only does agriculture have an important role in nutrition, it also has an important role in health. And that’s going to be the main topic of my presentation.

‘But a few facts here just to get us in the mood.

‘Of our 7 billion people, 55 million die each year; 18 million die of infection. That’s preventable—there’s no reason now why anyone should die of an infectious disease. But to put that in perspective, there are lots of other preventable things that also kill people: 1.2 million people die each year in road traffic accidents, 170,000 from fatal agricultural accidents and 22,000 (and rising) from extreme weather events.

‘Of those people who die each year . . . two-thirds live in middle-income countries and most of those people die of lifestyle-associated diseases (cardio-vascular/chronic). About a sixth of those who die each year die in high-income countries, and most of them die from being just too old—they die from things like Alzheimer’s and stroke and cardiac disease, things that often come at the end of a life. And then there are the one-sixth who die in low-income countries, and what they die of are the ‘preventables’, mainly infectious diseases.

So, where do these infectious diseases come from? When we look at diseases as a whole, we can see that most are ‘earned’. The wages of sin may be death but the wages of lifestyle choice is disease.

‘The major causes of disease on this planet are the choices we make or the choices that are forced upon us: degenerative diseases, cardiac diseases, diabetes, stroke, cancer. Allergies and asthmas, which are probably reflections of a lifestyle that was not the way we were evolved to live. Those diseases are not the focus of this discussion.

‘What we are focusing on are the “souvenirs”, the diseases we pick up from other sources. And those sources are pretty much animals. Around 60 per cent of all human diseases are shared with animals, and of the new and emerging diseases, 75 per cent are “zoonotic”, that is, they come from animals. What’s more, of the 18 million people who die of infectious diseases each year, two of the biggest killers are zoonotic, or jumped from animals to people.

‘One thing that distinguishes the “souvenir” diseases is that many of these are diseases that kill people when they are young or in the prime of their life, when they have a future ahead of them.

We’re all going to die—that’s one thing that’s fairly inevitable. If we want to spend scarce resources doing something about making our planet more healthy and productive, it makes sense to invest in the souvenirs, the diseases we’ve acquired rather than these end-of-life diseases, about which nothing much can be done.

‘In fact, some economists argue it’s cheaper to let people die once they’ve reached a certain age than it is to invest in trying to make them better, because they’re not going to contribute much more to society.

The diseases that don’t matter so much we call the ‘legacies’. These are the diseases that have always been with us, the diseases that humans brought with them in their evolution from non-human primates. It’s interesting to see that these diseases (e.g., staph, lice, typhoid) are pretty much conquered. So it’s not the past we have to worry about; it’s what we’re picking up and the choices we’re making.

'livestock live talk' 31 Oct 2012: Richard Bishop asks Delia Grace a question

ILRI scientist Richard Bishop asks Delia Grace a question following her ‘livestock live talk’ on 31 Oct 2012 in Nairobi on the subject of ‘Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock’ (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘So, how do these diseases get from animals into people, these 60 per cent of diseases that we share with animals? “Spillover” is the word. Here we see what we call an epidemiological or sylvatic cycle. That’s a little pathogen living in a kind of equilibrium with its wild host. By the usual evolutionary rules, once these pathogens have been living a long time with their hosts, they tend to co-evolve so that they get a little less malignant. Otherwise, if the pathogen kills all its hosts, it’s not good for its long-term survival. So what you tend to get are complex pristine ecosystems with lots of hosts and lots of pathogens, all in an evolutionary race but all staying in a relative status quo.

‘Once you bring in humans, you can get spillover. Once humans start coming into these pristine ecosystems and start messing with them—start killing lots of animals or butchering game meat or doing other things that happen when people invade pristine ecosystems—some of these pathogens can spill over into humans. What tends to happen when they first spill over is that they’re not adapted to humans: they kill them and that’s it. That’s what we tend to see with the ebola and marburg viruses; you’ve heard about these in Uganda. They spill over, they kill, that’s it. But if they get lots and lots of opportunities to spill over to people, evolution starts kicking in, too, and they now have got a new host, a new lease, so they’re going to start being able to be transmitted more readily, from human to human.

‘The other thing that can happen in these sylvatic cycles is the spillover can occur into livestock. This can be expected. Humans have contacts with wild animals, but livestock have many more. So we often see that livestock can act as a sort of bridge to bring these wild animal diseases into people. And that’s what we see with diseases such as the Nipah virus, diseases such as avian influenza and Rift Valley fever. The host is out there somewhere in the wild; often we don’t know where it is. It’s shocking to say: we still aren’t sure where the host for Rift Valley fever is, we just don’t know. But we know it gets into livestock, and from livestock it gets into people. People can be a dead-end host—the virus can get in, sicken and kill and that’s it—or the virus can gradually start adapting to humans.

‘Some of the factors that can help this transition are increasing the densities, increasing the contacts, increasing the amount of pathogen in the environment, but also other things like habitat change, biodiversity, vector density, host density.

I would argue—this is a little bit provocative and not everyone would agree—that spillovers happen all of the time and most of the time just aren’t any big deal. A lot of the present effort to control emerging infectious diseases is perhaps not well directed because we’re dealing with problems that are intrinsically self-limiting. However, when you look back at history, in order for a spillover to become a disaster—in order for a spillover to become a pandemic, a civilization-altering disease—you need something else. I think this missing ingredient is great societal dislocation.

‘And that’s what history shows. The first big transition was the Neolithic transition. I’m going to come back to that because it’s important. Other examples, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, Europe went through a little Ice Age—we talk about climate change making it hotter today; then, it got colder. People got hungry, people, starved, people moved; you got Black Death and it killed one in three.

‘When they opened up the New World and when people came to the Americas, something like 90 per cent of the population died in the Americas, from smallpox, from measles. This is what we call ‘virgin soil’ epidemics; people who had no immunity; why? because they hadn’t hung out with livestock for long enough, according to some people, so people just died in droves.

‘But it wasn’t just a disease—it was the collapse of their society, the collapse of a highly advanced, highly stable, highly functioning society. It was destroyed from the outside and the disease came in.

The riders of the Apocalypse do not ride alone. Plague by itself needs war, needs famine, needs destruction.

‘We saw the same in the First World War, with the trenches and that massive societal misery, which led to Spanish flu and 40 million dying, and colonialization and urbanization in Africa in the early 20th century leading to HIV.

Disease spillover + societal dislocation = pandemic

Slide from ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012 (slide by ILRI/Delia Grace).


‘Some argue and some spend millions of dollars hearing that we are about to enter a new time of unprecedented societal dislocation. As we get massive population increases, massive climate change, massive global destruction, we’re in for another big plague.

‘Let’s look at the first epidemiological transition, just to take us back to history and to show how domestication leads to disease. The first [animal we domesticated] was the dog [15,000–30,000 BC], and some would argue that the dog domesticated us, and the last was the goose (1,500 BC), and anyone who has been chased around a farm by a goose knows that they are as yet imperfectly domesticated!

But between the dog and the goose, there’s been a long range of domestication and the animals brought disease with them, diseases we tend to think of as human diseases; measles, mumps, diptheria, flu, smallpox, they all jumped from animals, many of them from livestock.

Disease and livestock domestication

Slide from ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace on 31 Oct 2012 (slide by ILRI/Delia Grace).


‘And of course this is a dynamic: once they jumped in they can jump back; other diseases jumped from people to livestock, and once they were in the livestock, they came back again.

‘So that was the link between livestock and disease and why livestock play such an important role in human disease.

‘The next question we have to answer is to try and put some details on this, try and put some parameters on it. If disease matters, and if animals play a big role in disease, what disease matters? how much? to whom? what does it cost? what can we do about it? . . .’

This ends part one of this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ presentation by Delia Grace on ‘The lethal gifts of livestock’. Check back here tomorrow for part two.

Read the invitation to this ILRI ‘livestock live talk’, and sign up here for our RSS feed on ILR’s Clippings Blog to see future invites to this new monthly seminar series.

View the slide presentation: Zoonoses: The lethal gifts of livestock, an ILRI ‘livestock live talk’ by Delia Grace at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters on 31 Oct 2012.

Livestock in the city: New study of ‘farm animals’ raised in African cities yields surprising results

Urban zoonoses and food safety: Nairobi

Leonard Gitau, a small-scale livestock farmer in Dagoretti, Nairobi, speaks to journalists during a media tour by ILRI of urban farmers in Nairobi on 21 Sep 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

For the first time in history, more people are living in cities than rural areas. Many of them still keep livestock. At least 800 million people in cities in developing countries practice urban agriculture, from growing vegetables to keeping camels—often in close confinement in densely populated areas.

The benefits of urban livestock keeping are many: from improved food security, nutrition and health from livestock products, creation of jobs and protection from food price volatility. But the risks in urban livestock are also large: unsanitary conditions and weak infrastructure mean that livestock can be a source of pollution and disease.

‘Zoonoses’, diseases transmitted between animals and people, are a global health problem that particularly affects the poor in developing countries. A new study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners finds that zoonoses and diseases recently emerged from animals make up 26% of the infectious disease burden in low-income countries, but just 0.7% of the infectious disease burden in high-income countries.

The study, published in the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production, which was led by University of Nairobi and ILRI, is part of a series of papers that examine the facts and fiction of urban livestock keeping. The researchers note the need for evidence in the planning and practice of urban food systems and the danger of relying on perceptions or models taken from different contexts.

Here are some of the results of the study.

Much more livestock is being raised in the urban areas of developing countries than most people (and policymakers) think.

Domestic as well as wild animals can spread many, and some very serious, diseases to people and it is a reasonable assumption that as the population of urban areas of these and other developing countries continues to increase, the risk of zoonoses also increases.

This recent in-depth study of urban zoonoses in urban environments in Nigeria and Kenya suggests that the human disease risk posed by raising, processing, marketing and/or consuming livestock in cities, city suburbs and big towns in developing countries is less than we might think.

Rather than bar poor people from livestock enterprises in urban areas in an attempt to protect public health, which could do the poor more harm than good, this study suggests that a more practical and equitable course is to work to enhance practices in small-scale urban livestock raising and informal livestock marketing by encouraging poor livestock producers, processors and sellers to upgrade some of their practices.

This study included participatory work with the local communities, and an important outcome has been the success achieved by creating incentives for the poor to improve their livestock practices rather than trying to strictly regulate these informal livestock markets, or harass the people involved, or bar them from operating altogether.

Another important finding is that people are not the good judges of risks that they think they are; most people, including food safety officials, think that livestock foods, being so perishable, carry the greatest risk of disease in informal urban markets, but studies have shown that, for example, city vegetables are often a greater cause of disease concern than milk and meat.

This research project was conducted jointly with the University of Nairobi, whose Professor Erastus Kang’ethe led the data collection and participatory work within Kenya, with the support of the Kenyan government and health officials. This project also expands ILRI’s long-standing research on informal dairy markets in East Africa and South Asia, led by ILRI scientist Amos Omore and others, which helped to refine dairy policies to support rather than harass sellers of ‘raw’ (unpasteurized) milk. And a new ILRI research project led by ILRI scientist Eric Fevre will investigate zoonoses further by tracking disease pathogens as they move among farms, processors and markets in Nairobi.

Urban zoonoses and food safety: Nairobi

ILRI scientist Delia Grace is interviewed by BBC and AllAfrica.com before the start of a journalist tour of urban livestock farmers in Nairobi that ILRI organized on 21 Sep 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Delia Grace, an ILRI veterinary epidemiologist and leader of a component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, was the principal investigator in the Ibadan-Nairobi zoonoses study and editor of this special edition of Tropical Animal Health and Production. Grace says that regulations that work for rich countries do not always work for poor countries, and that policies should follow a risk-based approach where decision-makers’ focus is not the bugs present in food but the likely effects on human health. ‘The risks of food-borne diseases’, she says, ‘need also be weighed against the economic benefits and nutrition abundantly supplied by animal products.’

In the absence of evidence, policies are based on the prejudice that urban livestock keeping is unsafe and unmodern, and it is often banned outright. Of course it continues behind hedges and in back alleys, but the imposed illegality drives a rush to the bottom in hygienic practices and investments. When farmers are harassed by authorities and operate in a legal grey area, they have little access to the support they need and little incentive to invest in business improvements.

Thanks in part to previous research on the benefits of urban agriculture, the Government of Kenya has been proactive in posting veterinary, animal production, and crop personnel in major urban centers to lead from the front in championing the development of urban agriculture. The government has also led in the development of the urban agriculture and livestock policy. Involving these civil servants has been key in enabling our research in urban agriculture. This is a good example of government changing its policy to better meet the needs of citizens.

Rapid urbanization, and along with it the urbanization of poverty and food insecurity, raises urgent challenges for the global research and development community. Among them is the need to manage the growing risks of zoonosis associated with urban farming and to improve food safety for the one billion of the world’s poor living in cities, most of whom depend on informal markets instead of more formal government-organized markets or grocery stores.

Informal, or wet markets, exist in many different forms across Africa and Asia but have common characteristics: food escapes effective health and safety regulation; many retailers do not pay tax and some are not licensed; traditional processing, products and retail practices predominate; infrastructure such as water, electricity, sanitation, and refrigeration is lacking; and little support is provided from the public or non-governmental sector. Unsurprisingly, women and the poor are involved most in informal markets.

Applying an innovative research approach known as ‘ecohealth’, the findings of this research contradict some basic assumptions about zoonoses and urban farming and show how livestock keepers in one of Africa’s biggest cities, Nairobi, Kenya, are transforming their livestock and public health practices to combat disease and help feed a city where 60% of the population lives in slums.

But what does it mean in practice? A special edition of 11 papers sets out how ecohealth approaches can make a difference to city health. The researchers base their findings from two case studies. One is in Dagoretti, a Nairobi district of some 240,000 residents, and analyzes the emerging zoonoses cryptosporidiosis, a diarrhoeal disease that is passed from cattle to humans.

For further information

See a Factsheet on Urban Agriculture and Zoonoses in Nairobi, which provides key facts about urbanization, urban livestock keeping and the study in Dagoretti, where most residents are poor and many raise livestock inside city limits.

Read the special supplement of the August 2012 issue of the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production on assessing and managing urban zoonoses and food-borne disease in Nairobi and Ibadan.

Featured in the special supplement are the following 10 research articles by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, the University of Ibadan and the University of Nairobi.

Click on the links below to read the abstracts of the articles (ILRI authors in burgundy; journal subscription required for access to full text).

Rinderpest: Scourge of pastoralists defeated, at long last, by pastoralists

Milestones in the eradication of rinderpest

A timeline of major events in the history of rinderpest in Africa from its introduction in 1887, in military cattle brought to Eritrea to feed troops, to the declaration of rinderpest’s eradication in 2011. RP, rinderpest. (Illustration credit: Figure 1 in ‘Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations’, 2010, by Jeffrey Mariner et al. Science 337, 1309.)

The invention of sex and death, evolutionary biologists tell us, allowed organisms to escape wholesale extermination by parasitic infections. The invention of antibiotics and other miracles of modern medicine allows many of us, particularly in rich countries, to think we can escape most disease, if not death. This of course is over-optimistic and flies in the face of all of human history. Disease has altered those histories, stamped whole continents with its imprint, shaped global affairs—bubonic plague in 14th-century Europe, smallpox in the Americas in the 16th century following European invasion, potato blight in 19th-century Ireland, the Spanish flu pandemic that circled the world in 1918, malaria and HIV/AIDS in Africa today.

Some of the most important diseases have killed human populations indirectly, by annihilating the crops and animals that sustained us. This happened when late blight affected the potato crop in Ireland in the 1840s, killing some 1 million people and causing another 1.5 million to emigrate in The Great Hunger, and when brown spot of rice ruined crops in Bangladesh and eastern India in 1943, leading to the deaths of 2 million or more people in The Bengal Famine.

Among the latter ‘food plagues’ is a remarkably little-known viral disease of cattle and other ungulates that ‘has been blamed for speeding the fall of the Roman Empire, aiding the conquests of Genghis Khan and hindering those of Charlemagne, opening the way for the French and Russian revolutions, and subjugating East Africa to colonization (Rinderpest, scourge of cattle, is vanquishedNew York Times, 27 Jun 2011).

Rinderpest, a German term meaning ‘cattle plague’, is a viral disease related to measles (recent evidence suggests the measles virus may have diverged from the rinderpest virus during the Middle Ages). It is arguably the most important animal disease historically. It entered the Horn of Africa from the port of Massawa, in what is now Eritrea, in 1887 with an invading Italian army that was importing Indian cattle for food and draft power.

The virus exploded so fast that it reached South Africa within a decade (and is considered one of the factors that impoverished Boer farmers as war with the English approached). It doomed East Africa’s wandering herders, subsisting on milk mixed with cow blood. Historians believe a third of them or more starved to death—Rinderpest, scourge of cattle, is vanquished, New York Times, 27 Jun 2011.

Killing animals within days of infection, the rinderpest epidemic emptied East Africa of most of its large grazing animal populations, wiping out 80–90 per cent of the region’s cattle, which, it is argued, left the remaining population too weak from hunger to oppose European colonialism.

Rinderpest struck East Africa in 1890, and in two years 95 percent of the buffalo and wildebeest there had died. So began a series of events of such profound ecological importance that the repercussions are still being felt today.—A R E Sinclair and M Norton-Griffiths, editors, Serengeti: Dynamics of an Ecosystem, 1979.

Journalist Fred Pearce gives more details.

Great pastoral civilizations across the continent were shattered. Central African cattle-rearing tribes like the Tutsi and Karamajong starved, along with Sudanese nations like the Dinka and Bari, West Africans like the Fulani, and southern Africans like the Nama and Herero. The folklore of the Maasai of East Africa tells of the enkidaaroto, the “destruction,” of 1891. They lost most of their cattle, and two-thirds of the Maasai died. One elder later recalled that the corpses were “so many and so close together that the vultures had forgotten how to fly.”

Many of these societies never recovered their numbers, let alone their wealth and power. Rinderpest served up the continent on a plate for European colonialists. In its wake, the Germans and British secured control of Tanzania and Kenya with barely a fight. In southern Africa, the hungry and destitute Zulus migrated to the gold mines of Witwatersrand, helping to create the brutal social divide between black and white from which apartheid sprang.

It is an extraordinary story, rarely told. . . .

Fred Pearce: Why Africa’s national parks are failing to save wildlife, Yale Environment 360, 19 Jan 2010.

Dan Charles, of National Public Radio, in the USA, reports on an article published in Science this month demonstrating that it was African cattle herders that wiped this ancient plague from the face of the Earth.

‘Twice in all of history, humans have managed to eradicate a devastating disease. You’ve heard of the first one, I suspect: smallpox. But rinderpest? . . .

‘In this week’s issue of the journal Science, several of the architects of rinderpest’s elimination lay out the reasons for their success. The key innovation wasn’t technological, they say. It was social and cultural.

‘Technology certainly played a part. Half a century ago, a British veterinarian named Walter Plowright, working in Kenya, created the first truly effective and safe vaccine for rinderpest. . . .

‘Later, Jeffrey Mariner of the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, developed a version of the vaccine that didn’t need to be refrigerated, allowing veterinarians to use it far from roads and electricity.

‘Yet the disease persisted in Africa, surviving in remote areas plagued by weak government and chronic conflict, such as southern Sudan and parts of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Veterinarians rarely ventured into those areas, and it was hard to know where vaccinations were even needed because government officials were reluctant to report outbreaks.

Mariner, who now works at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, says that ultimately, the skills and knowledge of nomadic cattle herders who lived in those hard-to-reach areas were the keys to cracking the rinderpest puzzle.

“Those farmers could tell us where outbreaks were occurring,” Mariner tells The Salt, speaking by phone from Nairobi. In addition, some nomadic farmers got training as “community animal health workers” and were able to carry out vaccinations themselves. They proved better at the job than veterinarians, in part because they knew their animals. . . .

Community animal health worker vaccinating animals against rinderpest in Karamajong, Uganda

Tom Olaka, a community animal health worker in Karamajong, northern Uganda, was part of a vaccination campaign in remote areas of the Horn of Africa that drove the cattle plague rinderpest to extinction in 2010 (photo credit Christine Jost).

‘Tom Olaka, a community animal health worker in the border region between Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya, identified and reported the last outbreak of rinderpest in 2000. The virus was officially declared extinct last year. Around the world, cattle farmers can breathe just a little easier.’

Read the whole article by Dan Charles at NPR: How African Cattle Herders Wiped Out An Ancient Plague, 14 Sep 2012.

Read the ILRI News Blog about this: New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the Earth, 13 Sep 2012.

Read the paper in Science (subscription required to read full text): Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations, by Jeffrey Mariner, James House, Charles Mebus, Albert Sollod, Dickens Chibeu, Bryony Jones, Peter Roeder, Berhanu Admassu, Gijs van ’t Klooster, 14 September 2012, Vol. 337 no. 6100 pp. 1309–1312, DOI: 10.1126/science.1223805.

Read previous articles on the ILRI News and Clippings blogs about the eradication of rinderpest:

ILRI’s Jeff Mariner speaks on what he learned from the eradication of rinderpest–and his new fight against ‘goat plague’, 15 Sep 2012.

Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock, 22 Nov 2010.

Why technical breakthroughs matter: They helped drive a cattle plague to extinction, 28 Oct 2010.

New analysis in ‘Science’ tells how world eradicated deadliest cattle plague from the face of the Earth

Afar community animal health worker

In a new analysis in Science, ILRI researcher Jeffrey Mariner describes how the world eradicated deadliest cattle plague, the second such success after smallpox. The authors of the paper reveal the essential role of Africa’s nomadic herders in ridding the world of rinderpest. Above, an Afar community animal health worker in 1993 describes the appearance and characteristics of rinderpest in cattle (photo by Jeff Mariner).

A new analysis published today in Science traces the recent global eradication of the deadliest of cattle diseases, crediting not only the development of a new, heat-resistant vaccine, but also the insight of local African herders, who guided scientists in deciding which animals to immunize and when. The study provides new insights into how the successful battle against rinderpest in Africa, the last stronghold of the disease, might be applied to similar diseases that today ravage the livestock populations on which the livelihoods of one billion of the world’s poor depend.

Capable of wiping out a family’s cattle in just a few days, rinderpest was declared vanquished in May 2011. After smallpox, it is only the second disease (and first livestock disease) ever to be eradicated from the earth.

‘The elimination of rinderpest is an enormous triumph against a disease that has plagued animals and humankind for centuries’, said Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ‘Science succeeded despite limited resources, and we now know how. We are committed to applying the lessons in this study to making progress against other similarly destructive livestock diseases.’

According to the analysis, which was conducted by international scientists coordinated by ILRI, and published this week in Science, the eradication of rinderpest happened thanks to the development of an effective temperature-stable vaccine, collaborations between veterinary health officials and cattle farmers to deliver those vaccines, and reliance on the knowledge and expertise of the local herders to determine the location and movement of outbreaks.

The cattle plague and its path of destruction
Rinderpest, known as ‘cattle plague’ in English, is thought to have had its origin in the dense cattle herds of Central Eurasia more than two millennia ago and subsequently spread through warfare and trade to cattle in Europe, Asia and eventually Africa. Caused by a virus related to the one that causes measles and canine distemper, rinderpest could infect cows, water buffalos and other cloven-hoofed animals, leading to a high fever, severe diarrhea, then dehydration and emaciation. The pathogen could kill 90 per cent of a herd, wiping out an entire farm’s livestock in just a matter of days. There was no treatment.

While rinderpest is not dangerous to human health, its impact on humanity has been significant. Its path of destruction has been linked to many history-changing events such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution and famines throughout Africa since the 19th century. Indeed, nearly three-quarters of the rural poor and some one-third of the urban poor depend on livestock for their food, income, traction, manure or other services. Livestock provide poor households with up to half their income and between 6 and 35 per cent of their protein consumption. The loss of a single milking animal can affect a family’s economic health, while depriving it of a primary source of nutrition.

Road to eradication
The first major contributing factor to eradication, as identified by the analysis, was a major improvement made to an existing rinderpest vaccine. While the original vaccine was safe, effective, affordable, and easy to produce, it needed to be refrigerated—making it nearly impossible to transport it to remote rural villages. With the development of a new heat-resistant vaccine formulation in 1990 that could be stored at 37 °C for eight months, and in the field without refrigeration for 30 days, scientists had a tool that would become the cornerstone of the eradication effort in remote pastoral areas of Africa.

But according to ILRI’s Jeffrey Mariner, the analysis’ lead author and inventor of the temperature-stable rinderpest vaccine, it was the role played by pastoralists that really turned rinderpest on its head.

As part of a public-private-community partnership, Mariner and colleagues trained what they called community-based animal health workers, or CAHWs—local pastoralists who were willing to travel on foot and able to work in remote areas—on how to deliver the new vaccine. These CAHWs carried the vaccine from herd to herd, immunizing all the cattle in their communities.

The local herders performed as well, if not better, than did veterinarians at vaccinating the herds—in fact often achieving higher than 80 per cent herd immunity in a short time—remarkable for a disease that had plagued most of the world for millennia. Indeed, it turned out that the pastoralists were not only very, very good at delivering the vaccine, but that they also knew more about the disease and how to stop it than many of the experts.

‘We soon discovered that the livestock owners knew more than anyone—including government officials, researchers or veterinarians—where outbreaks were occurring’, Mariner said. ‘It was their expertise about the sizes of cattle herds, their location, seasonal movement patterns and optimal time for vaccination that made it possible for us to eradicate rinderpest.’

Based on their immense expertise about migratory patterns and in recognizing early signs of infection, the herders were able to pinpoint, well before scientists ever could, where some of the final outbreaks were occurring—often where conventional surveillance activities had failed to disclose disease. Harnessing this knowledge of rinderpest through ‘participatory surveillance’ of outbreaks to CAHW delivery of vaccination proved to be the most successful approach to monitoring and controlling the disease. It effectively removed the disease from some of the hardest-to-reach, but also most disease-ridden, communities.

Applying rinderpest lessons to other diseases
While livestock and those who depend on them for food, transportation and economic stability are now safe from one major pathogen, they continue to be plagued by a number of other dangerous and debilitating diseases—some as deadly as rinderpest.

The international animal health community is now gearing up to address the next major constraint to livestock livelihoods in Africa and Asia. In their analysis, Mariner and colleagues consider how the lessons learned from battling rinderpest can be applied to protect livestock from other infectious agents—particularly peste des petits ruminants (PPR), also known as ‘goat plague’. Strategies to address PPR using the lessons from rinderpest have been developed and action is under way to mobilize international support for a coordinated program to tackle PPR. As a next step, ILRI and the Africa Union/Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources are planning to host the next meeting of the PPR Alliance, a partnership of research and development organizations who prioritize PPR, in Nairobi in early 2013.

A dangerous virus that can destroy whole flocks of sheep and goats, PPR threatens livestock owners in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, in particular. As with rinderpest, a sheep or goat infected with PPR will come down with a high fever and will stop eating, leading to severe diarrhea and death. Eventually, it will take down the entire herd of the animals, which are equal to cattle in their importance to the poor. And controlling PPR is made challenging by the short life span and heavy trading of sheep and goats—making it difficult to keep the disease in check and preventing its spread to new areas.

Nonetheless, the lessons of rinderpest eradication have begun to have an impact on the toll exacted by goat plague. Participatory surveillance methods are now applied in many countries, CAHWs are now frequently involved in vaccination campaigns and ILRI has developed a temperature-stable vaccine that can be transported to rural farms and has started to put into place training programs for shepherds and farmers in Uganda and Sudan to deliver it.

Eventually, these same lessons could be applied to other livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease—even some that have recently jumped to humans, like avian flu. Such ‘zoonotic’ diseases are responsible for 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths per year, primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

Read the paper in Science (subscription required to read full text): Rinderpest eradication: Appropriate technology and social innovations, by Jeffrey Mariner, James House, Charles Mebus, Albert Sollod, Dickens Chibeu, Bryony Jones, Peter Roeder, Berhanu Admassu, Gijs van ’t Klooster, 14 September 2012, Vol. 337 no. 6100 pp. 1309–1312, DOI: 10.1126/science.1223805.

Read previous articles on this blog about the eradication of rinderpest: Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated, 4 Jul 2011.

Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’, 28 Jun 2011.

After successful eradication of rinderpest, African researchers now focus on peste des petits ruminants, the most urgent threat to African livestock, 22 Nov 2010.

Why technical breakthroughs matter: They helped drive a cattle plague to extinction, 28 Oct 2010.

Cattle pneumonia pathogen arose with domestication of ruminants ten thousand years ago, researchers say

In this short (3:45 min) video interview, Joerg Jores, a molecular biologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), shares new insights from his research on contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, a killer livestock disease endemic in Africa.

Jores describes a recent study by researchers from ILRI, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and partners in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA that evaluated the history and relationships of pathogens that cause both cattle (contagious bovine pleuropneumonia) and goat (contagious caprine pleuropneumonia) pneumonia.

The study, ‘The origin of the “Mycoplasma mycoides cluster” coincides with domestication of ruminants,’ was published in the April 2012 edition of the Public Library of Science (PLoS, 27 Apr 2012). The researchers found that the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides, which causes contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, arose at the same time as humans first started to domesticate wild ruminants.

The onset of domestication of livestock about 10,000 years ago, which established large ruminant populations and the herding of mixed species, is thought to have contributed to creating the conditions favouring the spread and diversification of the pathogens by allowing them to adapt to different hosts.

Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia can kill up to 80 per cent of animals in infected herds, and the surviving animals often carry the disease for long periods and can introduce it to uninfected herds.

‘This research was the largest comparative study of Mycoplasma mycoides cluster to date,’ says Jores. ‘Our findings are shedding light into the history of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and this new knowledge is expected to guide future research into the disease.’

Read a related ILRI clippings article on the paper: Lethal family tree: ILRI research shows livestock bacterium is as old as the livestock it kills.

Download the paper: The origin of the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster coincides with domestication of ruminants, by Anne Fischer (ICIPE and ILRI), Beth Shapiro (Pennsylvania State University), Cecilia Muriuki (ILRI), Martin Heller (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute), Christiane Schnee (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute), Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Joachim Frey (University of Bern) and Joerg Jores (ILRI), 2012, PLoS ONE 7(4): e36150.


Frontline livestock disease research in, and for, Africa highlighted in White House conversation today

Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are working with many partners to improve control of major diseases of cattle in Africa.

East Coast fever in African cattle, one of the target diseases of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is included in a message today at the White House delivered by Raj Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. Shah will remind his audience that East Coast fever kills one cow every 30 seconds in Africa. Watch the live stream and join the conversation at 11am ET at the White House today, when Shah and others will answer questions about Innovations for Global Development.

Two other target diseases of ILRI’s are contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and trypanosomosis. All three diseases affect millions of the world’s poorest farmers. And all remain underfunded because they occur mostly in developing regions of the world.

ILRI recently produced three short films on research battles against these diseases.

CBPP: A new vaccine project starts
Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (known by its acronym, CBPP) is found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, where it causes most harm in pastoralist areas. The disease kills up to 15% of infected animals, reduces the meat and milk yields of infected cows (milk yields drop by up to 90%), and reduces the ability of infected oxen to pull ploughs and do other kinds of farm work. An existing ‘live’ vaccine against this disease produces severe side effects and gives only limited protection.

Watch this short (runtime: 2:35) ILRI film, ‘Developing a Vaccine for a Highly Contagious Cattle Disease’, on the research recently begun at ILRI and its partner institutes, including the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, to develop a more effective vaccine against this form of acute cattle pneumonia. This research is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Trypanosomosis: A genetic approach to its control
Trypanosomosis, called sleeping sickness in humans, is a wasting disease that maims and eventually kills millions of cattle in Africa and costs farmers billions of dollars annually.

In 2011, using the latest gene mapping and genomic technologies, researchers at ILRI’s Nairobi, Kenya, animal health laboratories and at institutes in the UK and Ireland identified two genes that enable Africa’s ancient N’Dama cattle breed to resist development of the disease when infected with the causative, trypanosome, parasite.

This breakthrough should eventually make it easier for Africa’s livestock breeders to breed animals that will remain healthy and productive in areas infested by the parasite-carrying tsetse fly. The international team that came together in this project is an example of the disciplinary breadth and agility needed to do frontline biology today, and the complex research approaches and technologies now needed to unravel fundamental biological issues so as to benefit world’s poor.

ILRI’s collaborating institutes in this work include Liverpool University; the Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh; Trinity College, Dublin; and the University of Manchester. The Wellcome Trust funded the bulk of the work in this project.

Watch this short (runtime: 5:28) ILRI film, ‘Battling a Killer Cattle Disease’, on the international partnership that made this breakthrough in trypanosomosis research.


Trypanosomosis: A community-based approach to its control
Another ILRI research team has been working with partners and livestock keepers in West Africa to develop safer ways to treat their cattle with drugs to protect them from trypanosomosis. Parasite resistance to the trypanocidal drugs used to treat and prevent this disease has emerged in many areas and is a growing problem for farmers and governments alike. This collaborative research team recently developed good practices in the use of trypanocides to slow the emergence of drug resistance in the parasites that cause the disease. This film describes the disease and these practices, known as ‘rational drug use’, clearly and in detail to help veterinary workers and farmers treat animals safely.

ILRI’s partners in this project include the Centre International de Recherche-Développement sur l’Elevage en Zone Subhumid, Freie Universität Berlin, Laboratoire Vétérinaire Centrale du Mali, Centre Régional de la Recherche Agricole Sikasso, Project de Lutte contra la Mouche Tsétsé et la Trypanosomose (Mali), Pan-African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign (Mali), University of Hannover, Direction Nationale de l’Elevage et l’Institut de Recherche Agronomique de Guinée, Tsetse and Trypanosomosis Control Unit (Ghana), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Bénin and the Nigerian Institute of Trypanosomiasis Research. The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Watch this ILRI film, ‘Community-Based Integrated Control of Trypanosomosis in Cattle’ (runtime: 12.48), for clear instructions on how to deploy drugs to better control trypanosomosis over the long term.