Veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace receives the Peter Ellis ISVEE Award for her work in developing countries
On Tuesday 9 August 2022, Delia Grace (Randolph) received the Peter Ellis award for exceptional contributions to veterinary epidemiology during the Twenty-Second International Symposium of Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics (ISVEE), held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Peter Ellis ISVEE Award for the Application of Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics in Development is awarded to a person for activities in veterinary epidemiology and economics carried out in developing countries that contribute to improvements in animal and/or One Health in those countries.
Delia Grace received the award for the many advances she has made in applying her veterinary epidemiology expertise in Africa and Asia, where she has helped to advance animal, human and One Health, the latter of which productively joins up veterinary, medical and environmental expertise. Specifically, Delia has focused on better controlling diseases transmitted from (wild and domesticated) animals to humans (called ‘zoonotic diseases’) as well as human diseases caused by consumption of contaminated livestock-derived and other perishable foods. In these areas, she has advanced understanding of the heavy infectious disease burden that continues to afflict the world’s poorer countries and communities. This burden includes not only such well-known ‘emerging’ zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, bird flu, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), but also the ‘endemic’ (always present) zoonotic diseases that continue to sicken and kill poor people, such as brucellosis and cysticercosis and echinococcosis (tapeworms).
Delia Grace and her teams and collaborators have mapped these global animal, zoonotic and foodborne disease burdens and have built formidable economic as well as humanitarian cases for increasing investments to reduce them. They have worked with policymakers at all levels—from global to local—to assess and communicate the real (as against widely perceived) health and poverty risks different communities and groups of people face from animal and foodborne diseases. And they have provided pragmatic roadmaps for resource-poor nations and communities to take to improve their health and well-being while reducing the threat of global pandemics.
The author of more than 230 scientific publications, including landmark studies and synthesis of first importance, Delia is the previous recipient of prestigious scientific awards from the British Veterinary Association; Edinburgh University; the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where she works jointly with the Natural Resources Institute; the University College Dublin; and, most recently, the University of Guelph, which awarded Delia the 2022 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award in June.
The citation for her recent Peter Ellis ISVEE Award calls Delia Grace a superb leader, team player and mentor and an especially ‘broad and critical thinker’. Offering something of a master class in messaging as well as veterinary science, Delia is known for her fresh approaches, for meeting hard truths head on and for illuminating neglected topics deserving of the world’s attention. Her scientific pursuits are distinguished by her commitment to help bring about tangible improvements in people’s lives. Often pushing back against fashionable trends and with a firm grasp of the everyday realities faced by the communities she and her teams are working to benefit, Delia consistently clarifies misconceptions and offers meaningful steps for governments and regulators to take to improve world health.
‘I couldn’t be more happy and honoured; animal health is our health and never have we needed epidemiologists more.'
—ILRI award-winner Delia Grace
‘Richly deserved! I am really pleased to see Delia Grace recognized in this way.’
—ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith
About Delia Grace
Delia Grace is a contributing scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Kenya, and professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich, in the UK.
International Symposium of Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics is a global forum for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, junior and senior investigators, as well as health policymakers to exchange information that can advance the fields of veterinary epidemiology and economics, and related disciplines in the health and social sciences. It is held every three years and is the premiere world conference for veterinary epidemiology and veterinary economics.
About Peter Ellis
Peter Ellis was the founder of the Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics Research Unit (VEERU) at the University of Reading. His interest in economics evolved from work on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in South America. He subsequently worked at the Agricultural Economics Research Institute in Oxford and then University of Reading where he established an interdisciplinary team that was in 1975 designated as VEERU. In 1976, Ellis invited around 80 professionals to a meeting at Reading, the main result of was the creation of the International Society of Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics (ISVEE) and a plan to hold meetings every 3 years.
Examples of Delia Grace's food safety messaging:
Without food safety, there is no food security, and there is no nutrition security.
The health burden of foodborne disease is equivalent to that of malaria, HIV/AIDs or tuberculosis and the cost to poor countries more than USD100 billion a year.
Most of the global health burden of foodborne disease originates in milk, meat, offal, eggs and fresh vegetables sold in the informal, traditional markets of developing countries.
Alleviating the burden of contaminated food protects human health, of course—but it also greatly benefits human nutrition, incomes, equity and the environment.
For many years, ILRI was the only institute working on food safety issues not on farms or in consumer households but rather in the "messy middle" of informal "wet markets", which are where most poor people sell and buy their food.
The solution to food safety here is not to get rid of these "wet markets", which are essential to the poor, but to make them safer.
What people worry about, and what makes them sick and kills them, are not the same: Risk research helps us sort big problems from trivial ones.
In developing countries, the best is often the enemy of the good—people come with "Rolls-Royce solutions" to villages that need "bicycle solutions".
The good news is that there are solutions to improving food safety in informal markets that are simple, affordable, easy.
On 9 Jun 2022, the Arrell Food Institute of Canada’s University of Guelph awarded veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace the 2022 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for Research Innovation. Presented in Toronto during the 5th Arrell Food Summit, on the ‘Future of Food’, the award comes with a CAD100,000 cash prize.
Delia was lead author of this seminal evidence-based assessment report on the risk of future zoonotic outbreaks, filling critical knowledge gaps and providing policymakers with a better understanding of the context and nature of potential future zoonotic disease outbreaks.
Delia led this collaborative study by ILRI and the UK's leading think tank Chatham House. The study brings together nutrition, food safety and sustainable diets. It shows how animal source foods can contribute to reducing the enormous burden of childhood stunting without compromising other sustainability objectives and what would be needed for this to happen.
Grace argues here that ‘a credible body of evidence about the costs, benefits and feasibility of controlling zoonoses would stimulate investments by donors and national governments as well as by the non-profit and private sectors’. She concludes that ‘emerging and neglected zoonoses have often been managed sectorally, but recent decades have shown, in case after case, the benefits of One Health management. The growing body of evidence suggests the time has come to make the bigger case for massive investment in One Health to transform the management of neglected and emerging zoonoses, annually saving the lives of millions of people as well as hundreds of millions of animals whose production supports and nourishes billions of impoverished people. With a dearth of information on the burden of zoonoses, this preliminary review, first presented last year, developed the following initial (non-definitive) estimates of the possible costs of zoonoses, the investments needed to control them and the benefits derived therefrom: A US$25bn annual investment over 10 years would generate annual benefits worth at least US$125bn (excluding discounting). Additional benefits include saved DALYs (disability adjusted life years), which reflect the disutility of illness, as well as conserved ecosystem health regulation through reduction of zoonoses spillover to wildlife.’
Delia co-edited the first, and so far only, book to focus on food safety in informal markets in Africa. Foodborne disease in developing countries imposes a health burden comparable to that of malaria, HIV-AIDS or tuberculosis yet only receives a fraction of the attention and investment. Most of this disease is due to fresh food sold in traditional markets. This book, drawing on a wide range of case studies from projects led by Delia, sets out both the problem and solutions. In particular, it emphasizes the participatory, multi-sectoral, people-first approach Delia’s team has used in dozens of food safety projects and which she believes are essential for meaningful change.
This memorable short video narrated by Delia summarizes the importance of food safety for poor consumers and farmers in developing countries and what research can do to help.
This paper co-authored by Delia provides a conceptual framework and review for understanding the intersections between animal disease and development. Delia developed the ‘three trajectory’ conceptual framework which has been used in subsequent analyses including a paper in PNAS (Perry, Grace, Sones, 2011) and Animal (Perry, Robinson, Grace, 2018).