Study finds Vietnam has low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease commonly transmitted between animals and people

A smallholders pig in Chưng Mỹ, Vietnam

A three-year study by ILRI and partners shows that farmers in Vietnam have low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that infects animals (including pigs) and humans (photo credit: ILRI/Andrew Nguyen).

A joint research team consisting of staff from the Vietnamese Department of Animal Health, the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Nong Lam University and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently completed a three-year study of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease passed from animals to humans. The aim of the study was to identify behaviours and conditions in Vietnam that increase the risk of humans and animals contracting this disease.

Results from Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc provinces, where the study was conducted, indicate farmers and small-scale slaughterhouse workers have low awareness of leptospirosis, even though researchers found that the disease was common in the pigs and humans tested.

The study, the findings of which were presented at a workshop in August 2013, was part of a larger project called ‘Ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia’, or EcoZD for short, which is coordinated by ILRI and funded by the International Development Research Centre, of Canada.

The EcoZD project used an ‘ecohealth’ approach, which requires bringing scientists from different disciplines and partner organizations to work together on complex health problems. Applying an ‘ecohealth’ framework improves understanding of the web of social, economic and ecological dimensions of infectious diseases and the importance of engaging local actors in preventing and controlling them.

‘Leptospirosis is a disease that has been around for a long time, but it often gets ignored as attention and resources are focused on emerging diseases like avian influenza’, said Mai Van Hiep, the deputy director general of the Department of Animal Health in Vietnam.

Leptospirosis affects animals and humans worldwide. The most common way humans get the disease is through direct exposure to urine from infected animals or from contact with water contaminated with such urine. People living in areas with open sewers, or that regularly flood, or that have poor hygiene are at particular risk. People who work or live with animals are at even greater risk. Animals that commonly acquire and spread leptospirosis include rodents, dogs and livestock.

Leptospirosis stunts the growth of pigs and causes them to abort, leading to economic losses for pig owners and the pork industry as a whole. People who develop the disease also suffer economic losses due to decreased productivity or missed work and the costs of seeking medical treatment.

‘We started by looking at public health records dating back to 2008 but there were no records telling us how common leptospirosis has been in Vietnam, in animals or humans’, said Hiep. ‘We knew that if animal and human health researchers worked side by side to better understand this disease, we would collect relevant data.’

The research team tested more than 360 people and 880 pigs in Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc. In Tien Giang, 29% of pigs and 10% of humans in the sample tested positive for leptospirosis. In Binh Phuoc, 22% of pigs and 20% of humans in the sample tested positive. (A positive test indicated the person or animal had past contact with the causative pathogen.)

Discussions with community members in both provinces revealed that people were unfamiliar with the symptoms of leptospirosis, how it could harm them and their animals and ways they could prevent it.

As yet, no mechanism in Vietnam links disease reporting between animal and human health. This missing link makes it hard for researchers in both sectors to understand how changes in the environment or behaviour may affect leptospirosis and other zoonotic diseases, which are passed between animals and humans.

‘Identification of serovars and serogroups provides us with clues as to which types of animals are transmitting leptospirosis. This information can help authorities to design strategies to control the spread of the disease to humans’, said Cao Thi Bao Van, deputy director of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.

‘Some simple things reduce the risk of exposure’, said Van. ‘People working with animals should wear protective clothing, like gloves and boots, when cleaning animals and their pens; this reduces the chance of bacteria entering the body through cuts or scratches. The risk of leptospirosis spreading among animals can be reduced by separating them in several pens rather than keeping them altogether in large groups.’

Lucy Lapar, an ILRI agricultural economist based in Hanoi, said research should now be conducted on the economic burden of leptospirosis in Vietnam, which remains largely unknown. ‘We need estimates of the economic burden in terms of harm both to human health and to livestock production so that decision-makers can better prioritize their resources for disease control’, said Lapar. ‘As long as the true burden of leptospirosis remains unknown in Vietnam, we will not know if the country should direct more resources to controlling it.’

For more information about EcoZD, visit www.ilri.org/ecozd

More information about the project is available on the EzoZD wiki.

Taking Stock: Jul 2012 round-up of news from ILRI

Remembering Jeff Haskins

JEFF HASKINS
Last month, we at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and within CGIAR and the wider agricultural development communities grieved over the sudden loss of American media guru Jeff Haskins, who had spent six years in Africa covering African agriculture news stories for the American PR firm Burness Communications. Haskins, who had just turned 32, died at the Kenya coast on 14 Jul 2012. See online tributes to him from the ILRI News Blog (with links to 25 major news releases and 20 major opinion pieces that ILRI produced with the help of Jeff and his Burness team over the last five years), Pictures of Jeff Haskins (ILRI Pinterest Board), Pictures by Jeff Haskins (ILRI Pinterest Board)Burness Communications Blog, Global Crop Diversity Trust, CGIARInternational Center for Tropical AgricultureLa Vie Verte and Jeff Haskins Facebook page.

Emerging Zoonotic Diseases Events 1940-2012

MAPPING ZOONOSES
Before his untimely death, Jeff Haskins in early Jul orchestrated major and widespread media coverage of a groundbreaking report by ILRI revealing a heavy burden of zoonoses, or human diseases transmitted from animals, facing one billion of the world’s poor. Some 60 per cent of all human diseases originate in animal populations. The ILRI study found five countries—Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria—to be hotspots of poverty and zoonoses. The study also found that northeastern United States, Western Europe (especially the United Kingdom), Brazil and parts of Southeast Asia may be hotspots of ‘emerging zoonoses’—those that are newly infecting humans, are newly virulent, or have newly become drug resistant. The study, Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, examined the likely impacts of livestock intensification and climate change on the 13 zoonotic diseases currently causing the greatest harm to the world’s poor. It was developed with support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

An opinion piece by the main author of the study, ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, wearing her hat as a member of the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, appeared this Jul in The Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog.

Azage Tegegne of IPMS awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science degree

ILRI AWARD
Azage Tegegne, of ILRI and the Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers (IPMS) project, was awarded an honorary doctorate of science degree by Ethiopia’s prestigious Bahir Dar University.

Bruce Scott with ILRI Addis colleagues

ILRI STAFF
ILRI bid goodbye to Bruce Scott, who served ILRI as a director for 13 years, the last decade as director of ILRI’s partnerships and communications department. Bruce is moving only down the road in Nairobi, from Kabete to Westlands, where he is taking up the position of deputy director of a new initiative of Columbia University (USA): Columbia Global Centers  ⁄ Africa.

ILRI & FODDER AT RIO+20
We  compiled links to ILRI inputs to the Rio+20 conference, including how to ‘turn straw into gold’ with dual-purpose crop residues and, with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), how livestock feed innovations can reduce poverty and livestock’s environmental ‘hoofprint’.

POLICY BRIEF
ILRI produced a policy brief on ‘Preventing and controlling classical swine fever in northeast India‘.

VIDEO INTERVIEWS
We film interviewed ILRI director general Jimmy Smith on ILRI’s evolving new livestock strategy and on ILRI’s role in providing evidence about the ‘bads’ as well as ‘goods’ of livestock production, marketing and consumption. And we interviewed ILRI scientist Joerg Jores on his research results, which, as reported in Scientific American, show that the pathogen that causes cattle pneumonia (CBPP) arose with domestication of ruminants ten thousand years ago, but only ‘heated up’ and began causing disease relatively recently.

Commissioners in Africa

VIP VISITORS
An Australian contingent visited ILRI this month and launched a new initiative, the Australian International Food Security Centre, to improve food security in Africa. The centre, which falls under the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), will spend USD33.8 million over four years to support food production in Africa as well as in Asia and the Pacific region.

Visit by Korea's Rural Development Authority (RDA) to ILRI in Nairobi

PROJECT NEWS
We reported on the signing of a memorandum of understanding by ILRI and Korea‘s Rural Development Authority (RDA) for laboratory work in Kenya, innovative platforms in an imGoats project in India and Mozambique, and training sessions on controlling zoonoses conducted by the Vietnamese members of an ILRI-led project known by its acronym EcoZD (‘Ecosystem Approaches to the Better Management of Zoonotic Emerging Infectious Diseases in Southeast Asia’).

Curious pig in Uganda raised for sale

SELECTED RECENT PRESENTATIONS
Azage Tegegne Livestock and irrigation value chains for Ethiopian smallholders (LIVES) project, Addis Ababa, Jun (256 views).
Danilo Pezo Smallholder pig value chain development in Uganda, Wakiso, Jun (1186 views).
Derek Baker Livestock farming in developing countries: An essential resource, World Meat Congress, Paris, Jun (874 views).
Derek Baker Interpreting trader networks as value chains: Experience with Business Development Services in smallholder dairy in Tanzania and Uganda, ILRI Nairobi, Jun (1879 views).
Peter Ballantyne Open knowledge sharing to support learning in agricultural and livestock research for development projects, Addis Ababa, Jun (1589 views).
John Lynam Applying a systems framework to research on African farming systems, CGIAR drylands workshop, Nairobi, Jun (1884 views).
Bernard Bett Spatial-temporal analysis of the risk of Rift Valley fever in Kenya, European Geosciences Union Conference, Vienna, Apr (1164 views).
Nancy Johnson The production and consumption of livestock products in developing countries: Issues facing the world’s poor, Farm Animal Integrated Research Conference, Washington DC, Mar (542 views).

Seeing the beast whole: When holistic approaches ‘come out of Powerpoints’ for better health

Purvi Mehta, Capacity Strengthening Officer

Head of capacity strengthening ILRI, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt delivered a lively presentation yesterday in New Delhi explaining how capacity building is an ‘impact pathway’ linking agriculture, nutrition and health for human well being (photo credit: ILRI).

Yesterday in New Delhi, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, head of Capacity Strengthening at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), was one of three speakers to make a presentation during a side session at the international conference ‘Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health’ being put on this week by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Saying it was ‘great to be home, in India’, Mehta-Bhatt, who is an Indian national based at ILRI’s Nairobi headquarters, started her 12-minute talk by getting down to basics—the basics of an elephant, that is. She told a ‘small story’ of an elephant that landed in a land where nobody had seen an elephant before. Everyone looked at this new beast in different ways, each seeing only a part of the animal. Even though all were looking at the same object, each interpreted the beast very differently, according to the small part they could see of it and according to their own interpretations. ‘This is pretty much the story of the three sectors we are talking about—agriculture, nutrition and health,’ said Mehta-Bhatt.  ‘We are all in our own silos’, she said, and need to see the beast whole.

Mehta-Bhatt sees capacity strengthening work as an important ‘impact pathway in linking these three sectors together’.

‘A piecemeal approach won’t work,’ she warned.  And although ‘this is nothing new’, she said, we still have limited capacity and understanding in this area, and only a few concrete case studies to show where linking different stakeholders in a health outcome has worked. As someone recently complained to her, it’s all very well talking about bringing all stakeholders together, but when has that ever ‘come out of Powerpoints’?

‘Capacity development is not just about training programs,’ says Mehta-Bhatt; ‘it goes beyond individual capacity building; it brings in systemic cognizance and impinges on institutional architecture, and all this happens in a process of co-learning, where messages are taken both from lab to land and from land to lab.’

Among ongoing ILRI initiatives that make use of multi-national, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral capacity building approaches are an ILRI-implemented Participatory Epidemiology Network for Animal and Public Health (PENAPH) with seven partners; a NEPAD-sponsored Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub facility managed by ILRI in Nairobi and hosting many students from the region; a Stone Mountain Global Capacity Development Group of 11 members that is mapping existing capacities in the field of ‘one-health’ and co-led by the University of Minnesota and ILRI; and an EcoZD project coordinated by ILRI that is taking ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in six countries of Southeast Asia and helping to set up two regional knowledge resource centres at universities in Indonesia and Thailand.

All of these projects, she explained, have capacity strengthening as a centrepiece; all are working with, and building on, what is already existing at the local and regional levels; and all are being conducted in a process of co-learning.

Mehta-Bhatt finished by finishing her elephant story. Capacity development, and collective action for capacity development, she said, can link the three sectors—agriculture, nutrition and health—allowing them not only ‘to recognize the elephant as a whole but to ride it as well.’

Watch the presentation by Purvi Mehta-Bhatt here: