Challenges associated with tracking the movements of people and their livestock

Challenges associated with tracking the movements of people and their livestock

Phase two of this study (detailed in the previous ZooLink newsletter) began in November. Over the last two months, we revisited 27 households that we collected GPS data from in phase one in order to track the movements of the same people and livestock as we did in July and August of this year. Briefly, this involves visiting randomly selected households in Busia County and asking the participant to wear a small GPS tracker on a lanyard around their neck or alternatively, to keep it in a pocket on their person for one week. During the same visits, we also attach an identical GPS unit on a collar to one of the livestock belonging to the household. After the week is over we return to the household to collect the trackers and to ask a few questions about the experience.

Cattle with trackers around their necks

Although most people have been keen to participate in the study for a second time, we often hear of challenges they encountered while wearing the trackers. These are nearly always due to other people’s perceptions of the purpose of the trackers and the research. For example, many participants reported that they were questioned by people from other households, which led to participants having to convince other people of the purpose and worth of the study. In the worst cases, participants reported that other people were convinced that the tracker was listening to their conversations, was a bomb or was doing “the work of the devil”. However, it was heartening to hear that in all cases the participant attempted to explain the study to other people, with varying results. Interestingly, the intensity of the questioning by outsiders seemed to be related to the participant’s age and gender: We tended to find that young women wearing the trackers were more likely to be subjected to questioning and (attempted) persuasion to discontinue their participation in the study than others. Nonetheless, participants invariably reported that while others might be doubtful, they themselves remained convinced of the purpose of the study and continued to wear the trackers.

Cattle outside a “boma” with trackers around their necks

Sometimes it was difficult to find our participants and collect the trackers when the week was up – we would drive to a sub-location up to two hours away from Busia town, only to find that the people we wanted to visit were out and we would have to track them down, mainly by asking the villagers where our participants might be. On the bright side, this also meant that our trackers were out collecting interesting data, and has led to us stumbling upon various events within the villages, including a funeral, a circumcision ceremony and a fishing trip.

Overall, this second phase of fieldwork has been largely successful!

This blog article was authored by Jessica Floyd, PhD student, University of Southampton and also appears in our Zoolink Newsletter Volume1 Issue 2

Tracking the movements of people and their livestock

Tracking the movements of people and their livestock

cattle-with-trackersAs zoonotic diseases can be transported across landscapes by hosts, understanding the complexities of host-mediated pathogen movement is a priority for zoonotic disease research.  For my research, I   have been using surveys and GPS trackers to gather data on the movement patterns of people and their livestock. We will be looking at the differences in movement patterns between the wet and dry seasons: the first part of the study took place in July and we anticipate completion in November 2016.

At each selected household, we interview the adults present and ask them questions about places they regularly go to, how they get there and how long they stay. We also ask questions about places they go to less regularly and their activities involving livestock kept by the household. At the end of the interview, we ask the adult who spends the most time looking after the livestock (if they have any) to wear a GPS tracker on a lanyard around their neck for one week which stores their location once a minute. At the same time, if they keep cattle, goats or sheep then one of these animals (usually a cow) is fitted with an identical device attached to a collar. If the household does not keep any livestock, one person is still asked to wear a tracker, so that we can detect differences in movement patterns between people who do keep livestock and those who don’t. Once the week is up, we return to the household to collect the devices and download the data. The devices are set to record their location once a minute, and the batteries can last up to 10 days.

Nearly all of the people we interviewed have been willing to wear a tracker and all of the trackers given out have been returned without problems. We look forward to sharing some results from this study in the next newsletter! Floyd Jess

Article authored by Jessica Floyd, PhD student, University of Southampton, UK.

Letter from the PI: Introducing the ZooLink Suite of Projects

Letter from the PI: Introducing the ZooLink Suite of Projects

Prof. Eric Fèvre

Prof. Eric Fèvre

It’s a real pleasure to write the first “Letter from the PI” for the Zoonoses in Livestock in Kenya (ZooLinK) project, part of the Zoonoses in Emerging Livestock Systems programme, funded by the UK Research Councils (led by the BBSRC), UK DFID and UK DSTL.

Our project has been underway since 2015, engaged in planning and staffing, followed by refurbishing of our field lab and the commencement of field activities in Kenya.  It’s satisfying, a year and a half in, to now be able to start reporting on how we are doing and what we are up to. While we have been and will continue to share updates through social media on a regular basis, our project newsletters serve to provide slightly more indepth ongoing reporting of our work.  Newsletter articles will also appear on our project website as blog articles – we are active on social media both on the web at and through twitter @ZoonoticDisease, with #zels #zoolink.

Dr. Laura Falzon has been appointed as our postdoctoral epidemiologist, leading activity in our field sites.  Laura is co-ordinating scientific activity at our primary laboratory, based in the town of Busia, on Kenya’s border with Uganda. The lab houses BSL-2 standard biosecurity and is fully spec’ed for basic parasitological diagnostic work, serological assays, PCR and molecular diagnostics and microbiological assays.  Later this year, we’ll have some exciting DNA sequencing capacity there too. Samples are flowing through this laboratory where a number of our project scientists are working, and two Masters theses have already resulted from this ongoing work (projects undertaken by Isaac Ngere and Maurice Omondi on arboviruses and Fasciola spp– see our blog). Dr. hristine Mosoti is our ZooLinK project manager, and is the primary point of contact for any external queries on the project.

While the ZELS programme does not directly fund PhD students, we’ve successfully attracted a real diversity of academic interests to our programme with some innovative co-funding mechanisms.  Ten PhD students are currently active in the programme, some nearing the end of their first year, others just beginning their studies, on topics as wide ranging as within household economics to genetic diversity of parasites – we’ll ensure that the students’ work is highlighted regularly in the student’s section of this newsletter – see Jessica Floyd’s entry in this edition.

We’ve been engaging very successfully with the national veterinary system too, with two seconded members of County Veterinary Staff attached to our project and so far two cohorts of Animal Health Diploma holders coming through on 3 month “One Health” graduate internships.  Elsewhere in Kenya, we’re investing, with our national partners, in the surveillance of several other zoonotic disease issues: we put significant effort into surveillance for Rift Valley Fever during the rainy season early this year and in to understanding the epidemiology of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in camelids and humans.  We’ve also been working on enumerating and vaccinating dogs for rabies in central Kenya.  Much work, and many challenges lie ahead, but our excellent team is already proving that it can face these challenges successfully, and I am very proud of the excellent interdisciplinary work that we are doing.

Urban Zoo Team-Breaking the barriers

Urban Zoo Team-Breaking the barriers

Managing a large multidisciplinary research team is a challenging task, especially when the teams are based in different organisations that are far apart from each other. This is the situation that Urban Zoonoses project is currently in. The 99 Household Study involves sampling 99 different households in different parts of Nairobi. Primary data and samples are collected by both veterinarians and medics based at ILRI, after which samples are sent to University of Nairobi, ILRI and the Kenya Medical Research Institute laboratories. Isolates from these laboratories are then sent  to Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Liverpool for further analysis and full genomic sequencing.


The urban zoo team during a journal club presentation

Proper planning and efficient communication has been the key to ensuring that everything is well coordinated. Team leaders (management or PI’s) from all the collaborating institutions hold fort-nightly teleconferences to update, consult and agree on a unified way of moving forward. It is a common practice for staff to communicate through emails, phone calls, skype and one on one talks with each other. The group has a “WhatsApp group chat” that is used to share updates/progress including photos of both the labs and fieldwork. It is also the easiest and simplest way of sharing information with the entire group. Our active website and the quarterly newsletters, publications and scientific conference presentations are some of the effective means used to ensure that the public is informed of the projects progress and findings.

Staff development and mentoring of young talents, is an area where the project has excelled with several Kenyan staff having either completed or ongoing with their Masters studies in the different collaborating Universities; University of Edinburgh, University of Liverpool, Royal Veterinary College at the University of London. In addition, five MSc students from the University of Nairobi, and six from Moi University through the Field Epidemiology Training program have been supported to undertake their research projects. The project has also attracted a number of European, American and Asian graduate fellows who joined to either gain experience or undertake research projects.


The urban zoo field team on a team building session

Team building sessions, write-shops, journal clubs and support to present scientific findings in both National and International Conferences coupled with inspiration and guidance from our dedicated Project Investigators, post-doctoral fellows and management are some of the ways that have helped in forming a united and dedicated team. Looking back, we all feel like one family, really privileged to be part of this big success!

Article written by  James Akoko and Victoria Kyallo  (Field Coordinator and Project Manager, respectively)

Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory training (FELTP)

Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory training (FELTP)

NL10-FELTP community outreach

Cohort 12 residents participating in a class group activity to assess community knowledge, attitude and practices towards cholera, Machakos County, November 2015

The Kenya program is the first FELTP to be started in Africa in 2004, and its objective is to strengthen in-country public health systems and infrastructure.  It is anchored within the Department of Promotive and Preventive Health in the Ministry of Health (MOH) and trains field epidemiologist for the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF).

It’s an experiential based training with 30% classwork and 70% hands on field experience and service provision culminating into a Master of Science Degree in Field Epidemiology from Moi University. The program embraces the One Health approach by  bringing together physicians, veterinarians, laboratory scientists, Nurses and environmental health professionals who are trained together and given the skills to effectively address the ever-growing threats of zoonotic diseases, Non communicable Diseases (NCD’s) and other emerging and re-emerging infections.

While in training, the residents are attached to various divisions, programs and units within MOH and MALF and other partner organizations in order to achieve the desired competencies/skills which include analysis of data from a surveillance system/evaluation of a surveillance system, scientific communication, and investigations of acute public health events and planned public health epidemiologic study. The residents have contributed significantly to investigation of major outbreaks in the country including polio, measles, aflatoxicosis, Ebola preparedness and screening at the port of entry. They have also participated in disease outbreak investigations across Africa, for instance Rift Valley Fever outbreak in Swaziland, Cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe and Cameroon, and Ebola and Marburg outbreaks in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

In recognition of the need to increase capacity in epidemiology among all cadres of public health workers, FELTP started 2-3 months training in basic level epidemiology for county medical and veterinary health care workers. The basic epidemiology trainings take place in selected venues on specified dates in various Counties. Since its inception over 300 participants from over 20 counties have been trained.

FELTP started a partnership with the ZED Group in ILRI where some of the FELTP residents at advance level training are  attached at ZED group/ILRI for their field placement. Currently, there are six residents attached at the ZED Group/ILRI. The ZED group has been hosting FELTP residents from cohort 11 onwards.

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