Where literature is scarce: observations and lessons learnt from four systematic reviews of zoonoses in African countries

The success of a systematic review depends on the availability, accessibility and quality of literature related to the review question. This paper presents the literature found in four systematic reviews conducted for a selection of zoonotic hazards in four livestock value chains in Africa, as well as setting out the challenges in conducting the reviews. The protocol was designed following international standards, and addressed four questions around prevalence, risk factors, control options and impact of various hazards and populations. Searches were conducted in four online databases. Articles were screened for relevance, and quality was assessed before data extraction. Literature on zoonotic hazards was in general scarce and access to full articles was limited. Overall, 25–40% of papers were considered poor quality. The diversity of approaches and designs in the studies compromised the ability to generate summarized estimates. We found that the emphasis of veterinary research has been on livestock problems rather than public health issues, although this seems to be shifting in the last decade; we also found there are limited studies on impact and control. While increasing literature is being published around zoonoses in Africa, this is still inadequate to appropriately inform policy and guide research efforts.