Students learn essential field skills during the summer school

HORN: Unleashing the Power of Collaboration in One Health Research for the Horn of Africa 

Critical research on One Health issues is not often done in the regions where it is most needed. One initiative changed this.

‘It is widely recognized that the Horn of Africa exhibits a close functional interface between humans, animals and the environment’, says Mirgissa Kaba, Associate Professor at Addis Ababa University. ‘As such, One Health research in this part of the world can improve the wellbeing of the humans, animals and the ecosystem at large.’   

Knowledge sharing and capacity development are essential for advancing scientific knowledge, particularly in research that directly impacts livelihoods. One Health is a critical research area for the Horn of Africa, where the health and well-being of people are intricately linked to the health of animals and the environment. Livestock play a vital role in the region, with many people relying heavily or entirely on it for their livelihoods. Currently, livestock accounts for over 60% of agricultural GDP in the region, but also contributes to disease transmission, affecting people’s health, nutrition and overall well-being. Additionally, climate change has made drought and flooding recurrent, threatening livelihoods. Research in One Health can enhance human and animal health and livestock production in the Horn of Africa, improving food systems, nutrition, resilience, disease control and the environment.   

That’s where the One Health Regional Network for the Horn of Africa (HORN) comes in. Five years ago, the University of Liverpool spearheaded HORN, funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), to establish a network of individuals and organisations across the Horn of Africa (including the countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia/Somaliland) capable of conducting high-quality research on the link between people’s health and wealth and that of livestock and the environment. HORN is unique among One Health initiatives in East Africa including Eritrea and Somalia, countries which are particularly under-represented in One Health research. 

‘The countries of the Horn of Africa are diverse yet face shared infectious diseases in humans and animals. HORN aimed to promote collaboration among regional scientists to tackle these common challenges. For instance, a HORN-funded project on anthrax united scientists from Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somaliland and Somalia to map the disease. Despite logistical and financial hurdles, HORN events consistently brought together individuals from multiple countries, proving to be essential and rewarding,’ Matthew Baylis, Principal Investigator of the HORN project and Oxenhale Chair of Veterinary Epidemiology, Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences, University of Liverpool. 

HORN tackled the challenge systematically, focusing on capacity building for both individuals and institutions in research. The initiative comprised several components, including institutional research capability assessments and action plans, support of scientists through training, seed funding for research projects, and the creation of a regional network.  

Teams collaborate at the sandpit workshop
Students listen to a lecture at the summer school
Students learn new One Health skills in the masterclass
 Students learning essential skills at the summer school
Oloitoktok Lab before refurbishment
The new Oloitoktok Lab
Up-close in the Oloitoktok Lab
The Borama science meeting and signing of the declaration

Building capacity of institutions and individuals

At the outset, HORN collaborated closely with individual institutions to conduct comprehensive capacity assessments, identifying existing strengths and weaknesses in research capabilities. The outcomes of these assessments were used to develop tailored action plans addressing infrastructure and process deficiencies. Addis Ababa University elected to procure equipment, such as microscopes and smartboards, to enhance the teaching and participation of remote examiners. At the same time, the Hamelmalo College of Agriculture in Eritrea rehabilitated its existing veterinary laboratory. The Sheikh Technical Veterinary School in Somaliland/Somalia elected to make laboratory equipment purchases and improve internet connection and server infrastructure.

Beyond infrastructure, HORN focused on enhancing the capacity of scientists. Post-doctoral positions were created and filled, with the University of Nairobi amending institutional bylaws to accommodate them. Other universities took softer approaches, providing support and resources to individual fellows to undertake a research project alongside their other academic responsibilities.  

Research workshops, known as ‘sandpits’, were also organized, bringing together multidisciplinary teams to brainstorm research ideas, develop a proposal and eventually pitch them to a funding panel to secure resources for project implementation. Researchers were mentored from design to delivery and publication of these co-created projects, which were organized around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including zero hunger (SDG2) and health and well-being (SDG3). They later addressed the pressing challenge posed by COVID-19.  

Throughout the project, HORN placed significant emphasis on training and capacity development. Participants gained training through various methods, including online self-paced training modules that covered case studies on One Health in the region and in-person masterclasses in relevant technical areas such as epidemiology, microbiology and qualitative methods. They also acquired generic and transferable skills such as proposal writing and presentation skills, even during the pandemic when in-person gatherings were impossible. Additionally, a hands-on Summer School, provided participants with a five-day immersive experience in the research process. The program focused on various aspects of One Health research, including methods for studying human, animal and environmental factors. 

Joining forces for an interconnected scientific network

HORN also facilitated networking opportunities among academics in the region, fostering interactions and knowledge sharing. Towards the end of the project, a science meeting was organized in Borama, Somaliland, which led to the formation of the Borama Declaration. This commitment by universities to collaborate and coordinate through One Health initiatives was a significant milestone, highlighting the importance of South-South collaboration and leadership. ‘The Borama Declaration is a significant milestone for the Horn of Africa. Twenty-four principals signed and agreed to enhance knowledge and experience sharing, strengthen South-South collaboration, research and training capacity building and improve community engagement and advocacy for One Health,’ said Yusuf Abdi Hared, Director for the Center of Research and Community Services at Amoud University.

As the project drew to a close in late 2022, additional funding was secured through a block grant funding allocation to the University of Liverpool which aimed to increase the impact of HORN further. In this phase, HORN leveraged its network to deliver a One Health Zoonotic Disease Prioritization workshop for Somalia in collaboration with the World Health Organization's Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (WHO-EMRO). The achievements and momentum generated during the Borama meeting were further affirmed through a move to formally establish a network of 20+ universities in the region. A strategic plan and constitution document were created, serving as a blueprint for further collaboration and coordination.  

‘Although the funding has ended, the initiative lives on in the form of a blossoming, multi-national network devoted to One Health in the region’ says Siobhan Mor, Research Lead for Ethiopia hub of the HORN project, Reader in One Health at the University of Liverpool and joint appointee at ILRI. ‘The journey of HORN has been marked by dedication, partnership and the power of collaboration.’  

Through its South-South approach, HORN has brought together diverse institutions and researchers to address complex health challenges in the Horn of Africa. By fostering regional networks, empowering individuals and institutionalizing One Health principles, HORN has laid a strong foundation for continued progress and improved regional health and well-being.