Reducing aflatoxins in Kenya’s food chains: Filmed highlights from an ILRI media briefing

Last month (14 Nov 2013), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) held a roundtable briefing/discussion for science journalists in Nairobi to highlight on-going multi-institutional efforts to combat aflatoxins in the food chains of Kenya.

Aflatoxins are a naturally occurring carcinogenic by-product of common fungi that grow on grains and other food crops, particularly maize and groundnuts. Researchers from across East Africa are joining up efforts to address the significant human and animal health challenges posed by these food toxins in the region.

Watch this 6-minute film, which highlights some of the interventions being used to tackle aflatoxins in Kenya. The film features interviews with the five panelists at the media briefing, who came from the University of Nairobi, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Kenya, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Hub, and ILRI.

‘Even though the presence of aflatoxins in Kenya dates back to the 1960s, the first recorded outbreak of aflatoxins that affected humans was recorded in the early 1980s,’ says Erastus Kang’ethe, a professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Nairobi.

‘The biggest risk of aflatoxins comes from long-term exposure to these toxins, which leads to chronic aflatoxicosis,’ says Abigael Obura, of CDC. ‘The CDC in Kenya is working closely with the Ministry of Health to improve aflatoxin surveillance measures in Kenya’s districts through better sample collection and analysis.’

At the same time, Johanna Lindahl and other scientists at ILRI are assessing the risks posed by aflatoxins in Kenya’s dairy value chain; cows that consume aflatoxin-contaminated feeds produce milk that is also contaminated with the toxins.

According to Charity Mutegi, from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, one of the key strategies in managing aflatoxins in Kenya is by using a ‘biological control technology that targets the fungus that produces the aflatoxins while the crop is still in the field.’ Known more popularly as ‘aflasafe,’ this technology, which is expected to be available in the country soon, is in use in other parts of Africa where ‘farm trials have yielded aflatoxin reduction of over 70 percent,’ says Mutegi.

Jagger Harvey, a scientist with the BecA-ILRI Hub, says the hub has established a capacity building platform for aflatoxin research that is being used by maize breeders from Kenya and Tanzania to, among other control efforts, come up with maize varieties that are more resistance to the aflatoxin-causing fungus.

Read a related ILRI news article about a filmed interview of two scientists leading work of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Delia Grace, of ILRI, and John McDermott, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, who describe some of the risks aflatoxins pose, new options for their better control and why research to combat these toxins matters so much.

View an ILRI infographic of the impact of aflatoxins in the food chain.

Read more on biological control to reduce aflatoxins.

Read more on strengthening regional research capacity to deal with aflatoxins.

Researchers strengthen their partnerships in the fight against Rift Valley fever

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming of western Kenya

A mixed crop-livestock farm in Western Kenya. Livestock researchers are working towards joint efforts of preventing and controlling Rift Valley fever in eastern Africa (photo credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith).

A new effort to align the work of partners in eastern Africa and implement more synergetic research on Rift Valley fever was the focus of a recent multi-stakeholder workshop that reviewed research strategies and approaches used by veterinarians, epidemiologists, economists and public health experts in projects across Kenya.

The meeting, which was held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on 2 February 2012, discussed ILRI’s Rift Valley fever research program, potential collaborations with partners and options of controlling the mosquito-borne viral disease that affects cattle herds in eastern and southern Africa. Epidemics of the disease, which can also infect humans, emerge after above-average and widespread rainfall and lead to death and abortion in livestock.

Participating organizations, which are conducting research on Rift Valley fever, included Kenya’s ministries in charge of livestock development and public health, the universities of Nairobi and Egerton, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and Kenya Medical Research Institute. Also attending the workshop were staff of the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the Nairobi office of the US Centres for Disease Control and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

‘Our research in Rift Valley fever is benefitting from increasing collaboration,’ said Bernard Bett, an epidemiologist with ILRI. ‘These “joined up” efforts, are supporting joint assessments of the prevalence of zoonotic diseases in both animals and humans and are helping to increase the relevance of the research leading to more effective interventions.’

This strategy should lead to lower costs of doing research and implementing human and animal health interventions and a reduced burden of Rift Valley fever on the region’s livestock, people, wildlife and markets.

Esther Schelling, a epidemiologist with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and formerly a researcher with ILRI, said: ‘Collaborative efforts in addressing the challenge of Rift Valley fever can support “one health” initiatives that seek to raise the research profile of neglected zoonotic diseases in Africa and improve the effectiveness of interventions through joint surveillance, preparedness and contingency planning to reduce the amount of time it takes to control outbreaks of these diseases.’

During the meeting, ILRI shared findings from a collaborative project known as ‘Enhancing prevention and control of Rift Valley fever in East Africa by inter-sectorial assessment of control options.’ For example, an analysis, by the project, of the public health burden of Rift Valley fever outbreaks measured in disability adjusted live years (DALYs) – the first of its kind in Kenya – shows that the 2006 and 2007 outbreak resulted in 3.4 DALYs per 1000 people and household costs of about Ksh 10,000 (USD120) for every human case reported. In 2008, ILRI estimated the disease cost the Kenyan economy USD30 million. Findings from the project also included a dynamic herd model developed for pastoral systems for simulating herd dynamics during normal and drought periods and in Rift Valley fever outbreaks. This model will be used to simulate the impacts of prevention and control options for the disease.

The Nairobi meeting discussed gaps in current research practice including the absence of climate models, sampling tools and methods to support decision support tools. Participants highlighted the need for a vector profile of the disease to enable mapping of most affected and high-risk areas and the need to understand how Rift Valley fever interacts between livestock and wildlife.

The prevention and control options discussed at the meeting will be further simulated using the herd dynamic model, which will be followed by an economic analysis using a process that was agreed on in an earlier (September 2011) workshop that discussed Rift Valley fever surveillance. A cost-benefit analysis of vaccination, vector control, surveillance, and sanitary measures is now scheduled. Results from the analysis will give much-needed evidence to support creation of policies and strategies for appropriate surveillance, prevention and control of Rift Valley fever in eastern Africa.

According to Tabitha Kimani, an agricultural economist with ILRI, ‘preliminary cost benefit analysis is already showing that it is beneficial to control Rift Valley fever through vaccination.’

 

Read more on Rift Valley fever research at ILRI and the region:

ILRI news archive

http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php?s=%22Rift+Valley+fever%22&submit=Search

ILRI clippings archive

http://ilriclippings.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/could-rift-valley-fever-be-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction-an-insidious-insect-animal-people-infection-loop-explored/

 

 

 

Germany helps Africa fight bird flu by investing in its people

Substantial GTZ support provided to ILRI and AU-IBAR has provided 80 laboratory staff in 37 African countries with specialized knowledge in rapid detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza
 
This program of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) for early detection of bird flu in Africa did more than train people in advanced techniques for diagnosing a new disease. It invested in people, connecting them in a ‘who’s who’ of skilled African laboratory staff as well as a handful of international bird flu experts focusing on Africa. It united these laboratory experts in a common cause.

As Carola von Morstein, coordinator of the GTZ Task Force on Avian Influenza, puts it, ‘This—remarkably the first regional training in Africa to diagnose avian influenza—is helping to improve transparency, communication and information exchange in bird flu campaigns. We will publish in print and on the web a training manual so we can widely share the lessons learned in this training. One of those lessons is the great advantage to be gained in coordinating work to prevent and control bird flu across the continent.’

Staff at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Africa Union’s Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), who organized the series of intensive training courses conducted over the last year across the continent, are interested in continuing their work with GTZ to sustain this cooperation among agricultural, veterinary and medical experts. Such inter-sector cooperation in disease control is regrettably unusual in all countries but particularly so in those lacking resources to bring together experts from different ministries and disciplines.

ILRI’s research director John McDermott is excited about this cooperative aspect of the project. ‘The network of African veterinary and human diagnosticians created by this training over the past year has great potential. It has fostered “diagnostic champions” in Africa who are being consulted by their colleagues. The benefits of this will go beyond avian influenza to other important infectious diseases of both people and animals.’

ILRI’s director general Carlos Seré also sees opportunity to build on the momentum that has been created. ‘We’re interested to explore with others how this regional emergency training might be transformed into long-term indigenous capacity-building for better control of infectious diseases in Africa.’

Other partners involved in organizing the training courses or providing training materials were the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.S.-based Centres for Disease Control (CDC). ILRI and AU-IBAR worked closely together to conduct a basic 10-day training course that they held in three countries: Cameroon, Kenya and Senegal. They drew trainers from OIE/FAO/WHO avian influenza reference laboratories, ILRI, AU-IBAR, CDC-Kenya, the Institut Pasteur, the Centre Pasteur and African universities and research organizations.

These courses revealed that most African countries have the capacity to collect samples of bird flu virus, including the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus, and ship these to designated laboratories for analyses. Some of these labs can also perform basic serological tests for bird flu virus. But few of them are equipped with the advanced diagnostic tests in molecular diagnosis and virology or with the BL3 facility (a laboratory built to a secure biosafety level 3) needed to handle the deadly live H5N1 virus. ILRI and AU-IBAR staff organizing the training courses targeted the few labs that did have these facilities to serve as regional reference laboratories and provided 20 of their staff with two advanced training courses (one in English, the other in French) conducted at South Africa’s ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI), in Pretoria, which is equipped with all the facilities needed for diagnosis of avian influenza. (OVI had previously trained staff in southern African countries.)

Funding for this project was provided by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by GTZ within its ‘Poverty Reduction in Rural Areas’ project. The latter works to boost—in a sustained manner—the capacity of developing countries to prepare for and respond to outbreaks of bird flu. With uncommon foresight, this German project further helps countries implement preventive measures that help their farming communities maintain their livestock, the mainstay of livelihoods of the rural poor. Among the farm animals at risk from zoonotic diseases and conventional programs implemented to control them are many local poultry breeds kept by the poorest of the poor.

Carola von Morstein, leader of the GTZ Task Force conducting this pro-poor work fighting avian and human influenza, visited Nairobi this week to consult with ILRI and AU-IBAR directors and scientists who organized the training and tailored the English and French courses to suit African circumstances.

In early July, the first follow-up training took place in three veterinary laboratories in Ghana. Staffs of the laboratories in Accra, Pong Tamale and Kumasi were trained by the German Friedrich-Löffler-Institute (FLI). This Federal Research Institute for Animal Health has a Task Force for Epidemiology. GTZ and FLI are together providing training to affected countries such as Ghana. GTZ also procured for these laboratories equipment, such as Quick Tests Influenza Kits, V-bottomed Microtest-Plates and Pipettes, to ensure that the country is equipped for diagnosis of bird flu.

For more information about this GTZ project, email the GTZ task team:
carola.morstein-von@gtz.de> or
kerstin.schoell@gtz.de

or the Rene Bessin at AU-IBAR:
rene.bessin@au-ibar.org

or Duncan Mwangi or Roger Pellé at ILRI:
d.mwangi@cgiar.org and r.pelle@cgiar.org

New outbreak of fatal Rift Valley fever in the Horn of Africa

Rift Valley fever is a viral disease of people and ruminant animals transmitted by mosquitoes. Epidemics frequently present as extensive abortion storms in small ruminants and cattle combined with heavy mortality in young animals. In people, the disease is most often a febrile illness without serious consequences. In a low percentage of human cases (about 1% or less), hemorrhagic complications can arise. Blindness also occasionally results. 118 deaths have been confirmed since the outbreak in November 2006 in the North-eastern province and coastal region of Kenya.

The disease is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes or heavy exposure to aerosols in situations such as the slaughtering of infected animals. Outbreaks of the disease are associated with changes in local water resource management or periods of heavy rainfall. Examples have been the construction of new dams or El Nino rain events such as the one in East Africa in 1997-98 when there was a major outbreak of Rift Valley fever in Kenya and Somalia. The virus has been shown to over-winter in infected mosquito eggs. At the onset of the rains, infected mosquitoes transmit the disease to suitable amplifying hosts such as small ruminants. If vector densities are sufficiently high due to favourable environmental conditions, this starts a cascade-like recrudescence of the virus in the host and vector populations, leading to an epidemic.

Severe human cases, although an infrequent outcome of infection, are often the event that triggers recognition that an epidemic is under way.  There is need to develop early warning systems and to validate prevention and control strategies that can mitigate the evolution of outbreaks. Rift Valley fever causes serious economic losses in livestock particularly in cattle and sheep, although goats, camels, Asian water buffalo and wild antelopes may be vulnerable.

Key research questions

A number of important research questions related to Rift Valley fever and its impact remain unanswered and worthy of further research.  These include the following:

•  What is the economic impact of an RVF outbreak, particularly in terms of distribution, livelihoods, international trade, public health, and other macro-level factors?  How does the disease affect unrelated sectors (e.g., tourism)?
•  How has the disease broadly affected trade patterns in livestock products from the horn of Africa and what are potential future impacts? How can these be mitigated?
•  How effective are current vaccines in their ability to prevent disease and how frequent are side effects? There are two types of vaccines currently in use, both of which have serious disadvantages.  For human use, a ‘killed vaccine’consists of formalin-inactivated virus for restricted use.   It requires several doses and annual revaccination.  It is not approved for general distribution and is used only for laboratory workers and other specialized groups.  A live, attenuated vaccine is approved for use in livestock.  It induces a solid, life-long immunity but may cause abortions if administered to pregnant animals. 
•  What is the epidemiological impact and cost-effectiveness of alternative types of vaccination and movement control strategies?  How can these tools be best used in the face of outbreaks like the one we are experiencing now?
•  Can diagnostic tests for the disease be improved to make them more ‘user-friendly’ for field workers and remote laboratories?  Is it possible to develop good diagnostic tests to distinguish between active and past infections, and to distinguish previously exposed animals from vaccinated animals?
•  How can we enhance decision-making and promote the application of risk-based standards to ensure safe international trade of livestock products and scientifically sound trade restrictions?

 The Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is actively seeking to become engaged in two areas.

In diagnostics, ILRI recently held discussions with the Kenya’s Department of Veterinary Services and South Africa’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI).  OVI have developed a field-based test to diagnose RVF infection in cattle.  This test requires only the application of a small blood sample to the device with a result obtained in about three minutes.  Such a test has advantages over a laboratory-based test, in terms of speed of diagnosis and no need for electricity or other equipment.  Although the test has profed successful in the laboratory, it has yet to undergo extensive testing in the field to ensure that it is sufficiently accurate.  It is envisaged that ILRI will be involved in this testing, using samples from the current outbreak.

On another front, ILRI is pursuing the possibility of working with a Walter Reed Project (WRP) and the US-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to support their ongoing efforts to understand and control this present outbreak of Rift Valley Fever.  Internal discussions within ILRI highlight three key areas in which ILRI could contribute in this process:

• Sensitise key stakeholders, particularly in government of the epidemiological and economic magnitude and impact of the current outbreak in Kenya.
• Initiate a process to identify appropriate veterinary control strategies to reduce both animal   and human incidence of the disease
• Take advantage of the current situation to collect key epidemiological and economic data to guide further research and improve risk mitigation tools

ILRI is in discussions with the WRP-CDC teams to define roles specific for ILRI in the areas of assessing the socio-economic impacts of the disease, participatory epidemiology and surveillance, and the interface between livestock and public health.  ILRI aims to help WRP-CDC in their short-run emergency response efforts as well as to use this current outbreak to help design decision-support tools to better manage future occurrences of Rift Valley Fever.