A five-year, USD6 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with an opportunity to grow to $16 million, will develop a regional Feed the Future Animal Health Innovation Lab and research program based in Nairobi, Kenya. The lab will identify interventions to reduce livestock diseases, particularly the deadly cattle disease known as East Coast fever and further develop local capacity in animal health through research training and institutional development.
Leading the new regional animal health lab and program will be Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Health, which works with other top US universities and developing-country institutions in tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges in agriculture and food security. The Allen School’s Global Health-Kenya will take an interdisciplinary approach to addressing livestock diseases, working in partnership with scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and University of Nairobi (UoN).
East Coast fever is a fatal bovine disease caused by a single-celled parasite transmitted by ticks when they take a blood meal from an animal. Affecting a dozen countries in Africa, this disease if left untreated can kill 100% of infected cattle in areas where the disease is not endemic. The people most affected by East Coast fever are some 20 million small-scale dairy farmers and pastoral herders, who can least afford to lose their cows, typically their major family asset, to disease.
Improving the control of animal diseases is critical in reducing malnutrition and improving livelihoods of livestock-dependent communities in many settings in low- and middle-income countries with unacceptably high malnutrition levels, disproportionally affecting children under 5 years of age and women of reproductive age.
‘With high livestock mortality and morbidity comes lowered household incomes and related degradation of social and nutritional health’, said Thumbi Mwangi, associate professor at the Allen School and director of the Animal Health Innovation Lab. Mwangi added, ‘We are honoured and eager to work with the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative to improve household economies through better health of their livestock.’
‘Small scale farmers are the key players in the livestock sector in Eastern and Central Africa’, says Stephen Kiama Gitahi, vice chancellor of the University of Nairobi. ‘This program is consistent with the sustainable development goal of poverty eradication and will go a long way in supporting livelihoods and transforming lives of marginalized populations.’
Because East Coast fever harms livestock productivity, household incomes, food and nutritional security, and ultimately human health and welfare throughout the dozen countries of East, Central and Southern Africa where it occurs, animal health scientists at ILRI, which is headquartered in Nairobi, have worked for decades on improving diagnostic tests and vaccines for this and other important tropical diseases as well as understanding their socioeconomic impacts.
Dieter Schillinger, ILRI’s bioscience deputy director, says, ‘We are grateful to see enhanced North-South learning and collaborations and, through Washington State University, we are honoured to be part of this USAID Feed the Future initiative that will reduce the devastation wrought by livestock diseases such as East Coast fever that continue to harm the lives and livelihoods of millions of Africa’s farmers and herders.’
The Feed the Future Animal Health Innovation Lab will employ state-of-the-art technologies, including the genome editing tool known as ‘CRISPR-Cas’, to develop user-friendly pen-side diagnostics and improved vaccines for East Coast fever. The lab aims not only to deploy animal health interventions but also to track their impacts on people’s livelihoods and health and to help train the next generation of animal health scientists in this African region.
About Feed the Future
As the US Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future works hand-in-hand with partner countries to develop their agriculture sectors and break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger. This initiative is helping people feed themselves and creating opportunities for a new generation of young people while building a more stable world.