The ILRI 2018 Annual Report> In the field

ILRI/Stevie Mann
A Tanzanian man helps immunize cattle against East Coast Fever in northern Tanzania

Using smartphones to track livestock disease outbreaks in northern Kenya

An electronic disease surveillance system is improving early detection of livestock diseases, making interventions more accurate and effective

By Tezira Lore

Taking advantage of the widespread uptake of mobile telephones throughout Kenya, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) initiated an innovative, community-led system of syndromic livestock disease surveillance in five counties in northern Kenya, using smartphones to collect and transmit surveillance data.

Syndromic disease surveillance uses clinical features discernable before disease confirmation, sometimes as simple as coughing or loss of appetite, as an alert to potential disease outbreaks. Syndromic surveillance is advantageous because of its timeliness and ability to detect community-wide outbreaks, which are confirmed through the intervention of community disease reporters trained to identify common livestock diseases.

Diseases that affect cattle, sheep, goats and camels are endemic in these regions and are a key constraint to livestock production.

A critical economic activity

Livestock production is the main economic activity of pastoralist communities living in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya. Some 90% of the population in these areas is involved in livestock production, providing 70% of the country’s meat. Unfortunately, diseases that affect cattle, sheep, goats and camels are endemic in these regions and are a key constraint to livestock production.

This disease challenge is compounded by the region’s poor road and telecommunications infrastructure, which in the past hampered the timely detection and reporting of livestock diseases. In the absence of alternatives, farmers traditionally relied on word of mouth for information on suspected livestock disease outbreaks, a relatively inefficient system.

ILRI medical-veterinary laboratory in Busia, Kenya (Credit: ILRI/Charlie Pye-Smith)

Through the ILRI-led Accelerated Value Chain Development project, this electronic livestock disease surveillance (e-surveillance) system has been rolled out in Garissa, Marsabit, and Turkana Counties in northern Kenya. The involvement of designated community disease reporters strengthened linkages among veterinary officers, abattoir workers, agro-veterinary drug sellers, livestock traders and the pastoral communities at large. Early detection, reporting and control of disease outbreaks improved significantly, and the county governments are now more aware about the importance of livestock disease surveillance.

‘The e-surveillance system has promoted a more targeted, data-informed approach to disease prevention and control’, says Bernard Bett, a veterinary scientist at ILRI.

In Garissa County, for example, more than 800 community disease reporters have been trained to use the system and they in turn have trained more than 32,000 livestock keepers, in collaboration with veterinary staff from the County Veterinary Departments. ‘The system has enabled the veterinary department to expand sources of surveillance data and specifically involve local communities’, says Dr. Koskei, a field veterinarian in Garissa County.

Guiding health interventions

And in Turkana County, where the e-surveillance system was launched in September 2018, livestock disease surveillance data have been used to guide animal health interventions. Each village is represented by a community disease reporter who has been trained on disease identification and reporting. He/she collects data on disease syndromes in real time and shares it with a veterinarian in charge of his/her area. The veterinarian posts the records received to an online server that has been designed to collate, analyze and map the disease occurrence patterns. Maps generated in Turkana County, for example, were used to guide vaccination campaigns and deliver the right supply of veterinary drugs. This helped to reduce the prevalence and impact of diseases, especially in the target areas. It also helped the department of veterinary services to deploy targeted and cost-effective responses.

In his State of the County Address in November 2018, Governor Josphat Nanok of Turkana County noted the importance of the e-surveillance system in early detection, reporting and management of livestock diseases in the county. ‘The electronic surveillance system under our Department of Veterinary Services has supported eight disease surveillance visits that have led to the detection of new diseases and estimation of prevalence of many endemic diseases. Interventions implemented based on the data collected have benefitted about 1,750 households’, Governor Nanok said in his speech.

Because the e-surveillance system relies on timely collection and transmission of reliable data, it has led to a more pragmatic approach to disease control interventions at the community level. It has also allowed the veterinary department to involve the private sector (such as agro-veterinary drug sellers) and to collect multiple types of data. This is one of the unique features of this system that distinguishes it from previous efforts.

‘The e-surveillance system has promoted a more targeted, data-informed approach to disease prevention and control’, says Bernard Bett, a veterinary scientist at ILRI who has been involved in the development of the system. As the system continues to expand, it is also being improved. ILRI is continuing to enhance the system’s information and communication technology infrastructure and refine the case definitions for endemic diseases to improve the accuracy of the reporting.

Better lives through Livestock

The Human Face of Sustainable
Livestock Development

International Livestock Research Institute2018 Annual Report

Ethiopian girl drinking milk produced by the family cow
ILRI/Apollo Habtamu


Jimmy Smith (l) received a doctorate with honoris causa and gave the commencement speech at the University of Melbourne, Australia, on 6 Dec 2018, with Lindsay Falvey (r).
University of Melbourne

2018 was a year of continuing progress and solid achievement for ILRI—and for that we remain both grateful and proud. Thanks to our staff, our partners, our donors and the governments with whom we work, ILRI is helping countless farmers and other stakeholders in the livestock sector in the developing world live better lives through livestock. It is helping to raise household incomes, improve human nutrition and health, fight devastating livestock diseases, breed more productive and drought-resistant animals, redress gender imbalances, enhance biodiversity and develop livestockrelated policies that will address, mitigate and adapt to climate change.

In past reports, we’ve noted that the global demand for animal-source foods continues to grow rapidly in developing and emerging countries, a phenomenon we’ve dubbed the “livestock revolution.” In Africa, for example, the demand for livestock-derived foods is projected to increase by 80% from 2010 to 2030, mostly because of population growth. Asia, already the largest consumer of livestock-derived foods, will see a nearly 60% jump in consumption—and much of that will be due to rising incomes and greater urbanization.

The breadth of the opportunities these figures represent requires new science and new research results that are taken to scale. This report highlights just a few of the many activities ILRI staff have undertaken in the past year.

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