Scientists stress need, amid COVID-19, to maintain focus on everyday zoonotic diseases of the world’s poor

James Akoko, ILRI Animal Health Assistant with the People, Animals and their Zoonoses (PAZ) project, making blood smears (photo credit: BMGF/Lee Klejtnot).

Most diseases that transmit from animals to humans (zoonoses) are not of the headline-grabbing, world-stopping variety write Eric Fèvre and Naomi Marks.

They are an everyday reality for millions of people whose lives are quietly blighted or prematurely ended by diseases transmitted through farming and food systems.

Many scientists working on diseases affecting people in developing countries and their animals are refocusing part of their work on COVID-19.

The result is that while the pandemic response is receiving a welcome boost, the prospect for research into lesser-known diseases of poor people in poor countries is less certain.

Scientists in Africa, Asia and Europe from a range of disciplines have been researching these diseases of poverty as part of Zoonoses and Emerging Livestock Systems (ZELS), a United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and UK Research and Innovation funded programme. Their expertise has new and critical relevance to the COVID-19 outbreak. . . .

The diagnostic laboratory at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, where the ZooLinK project is doing surveillance for 15 different zoonotic pathogens, has been turned in to a COVID-19 testing centre supporting the Ministry of Health. Several project staff are contributing to testing, with others engaged in contact tracing COVID-19 cases. . . .

It is also almost inevitable that endemic diseases will stop getting the attention they need as health systems gear totally towards the crisis. This was seen in West Africa during and after the Ebola outbreak in 2014. . . .

Endemic diseases are not going away. Fortunately, ZELS research is now starting to have impact. . . .

Eric Fèvre is professor of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool and is jointly appointed at the International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya.
Naomi Marks is a project communications manager at the Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom.

Read the whole article by Eric Fèvre and Naomi Marks, Don’t lose focus on diseases of poverty in COVID-19 crisis, SciDevNet, 15 Jun 2020.