ILRI expertise on zoonotic diseases

Scientists estimate that 70% of emerging infectious diseases originate from animals, and 60% of the existing infectious disease are zoonotic. Zoonotic diseases are transmitted from animals to humans and can be spread through water, food, and the environment. COVID-19 is probably a good example of such a zoonotic diseases because it is thought most likely to have originated from bats. Other diseases like Ebola, Rift Valley fever, brucellosis and cysticercosis are also considered to be zoonotic. These diseases impose a huge burden on people and the global economy. 

Scientists across ILRI, along with national and international partners carry out research towards improving the control of zoonotic disease through the collection of baseline evidence from animals at the various interfaces, and through the application of tools and approaches such as disease modelling, risk mapping, disease surveillance and use of decision support tools. 

It is estimated that it costs the world  USD 500 billion each year in terms of lives lost and economic slowdowns compared to USD 20 billion per year for preventative actions. Yet funding for managing pandemic diseases receives only a fraction of that put toward managing a warming globe. 
Providing proactive, risk-based animal health services is a crucial investment in the battle against human disease plagues.

ILRI is one of sixteen scientific research centres known as CGIAR that are working for a food-secure future in developing countries. 

Key messages

  • People can acquire zoonoses from direct or indirect contact with animals and from livestock products. In some cases, when a disease jumps species from animals to humans it becomes adapted to humans as it spreads as a human-only disease. For example, HIV was originally a zoonotic disease which mutated to become a human-to-human disease. In other cases, such as rabies, animals remain the source of infection.
  • Zoonoses are more common than most people realize: On average, a new zoonosis emerges every four months, although few in recent memory have been as globally threatening as COVID-19.
  • Animal health systems remain poorly resourced to contribute effectively to One Health interventions. We need to engage in better surveillance and monitoring of animal diseases and conduct better vaccination and food safety programs.
  • For a One Health approach to work we need to understand that society and people are at the centre: Our choices about human, animal and ecosystems health drive the present system. 
  • The emergence of COVID-19 underlines the importance of taking a One Health approach, based on the premise that animal and human health and the ecosystems they share are inextricably linked and must be addressed together.
  • Traditional markets that sell fresh meat, fish and other goods that can spoil, as well as practice of consuming of wild animal or bushmeat, have come under increased scrutiny; a global policy overreaction such as an outright ban on wet markets could jeopardize livelihoods and food security and, perversely, lead to greater long-term health risks. 
  • The virus, which is believed to have emerged in a wet market in Central China, is not the first to pass from animals to humans. Diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans are called zoonoses. Past zoonoses have included bird flu, SARS, MERS-CoV and Ebola.

Short video listing key areas in zoonotic disease research