An account of the 11th TAWIRI conference featuring presentations from our team

The eleventh Tanzania Wildlife Institute (TAWIRI) conference themed, “People, livestock, and climate change: Challenges for sustainable biodiversity conservation”, was held from 6th to 8th December 2017 at the Arusha International Conference Centre (Fig.1). The conference had over 300 local and global participants with diverse knowledge on wildlife conservation with 4 keynote papers, 3 symposia, and 7 parallel sessions amounting to 167 oral and 19 poster presentations whose findings are intended to contribute to wildlife conservation in Tanzania and the region.

Figure 1: 11th TAWIRI conference information banner

The opening speech by the guest of honour, Deputy Minister-Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (Fig.2), noted that the ever-increasing demand for land is a concern to all of us and puts preservation of natural resources in limbo and that there’s a danger of forgetting the fundamental principle that natural resources are not invulnerable and will be vulnerable indefinitely. In this regard, he urged wildlife scientists to continue providing scientific information to the government, wildlife management authorities, conservation and management partners to help reduce anthropogenic impacts on nature as well as information that will help guide effective development and conservation strategies.

Figure 2: Opening speech session – Guest speaker (5th from the right among seated)

The conference was timely to address the current conservation challenges facing Tanzania characterised by an increasing trend of livestock that interact with wildlife within protected areas. It was reiterated that scientific information has been and should be the backbone of the country’s success story in wildlife conservation. Thus, more scientific information is needed and required on how to improve the livelihood of communities around protected areas by enhancing economic growth by preserving natural resources and mitigating climate change impacts for sustainable conservation of biodiversity.

A key message from the conference presentations, as noted by Prof Sinclair (Fig.3), was that both protected areas and human-based areas are necessary but neither is sufficient for conservation. All ecosystems change continuously and therefore static boundaries will not solve conservation problems since they cannot accommodate change. It was reiterated that what is applicable today would be obsolete in 100 years and therefore important to improve human-dominated landscapes to make them more suitable for biodiversity for the future of protected areas and the stability of human ecosystems.

Figure 3: Keynote address by Prof Anthony Sinclair on, “The future of conservation”

Two of our ZED Group members were involved in organizing and participating in one of the 11th TAWIRI conference symposium themed, “Wildlife Diseases and Ecosystem Health” in collaboration with the Wildlife Disease Association, Africa and the Middle East (WDA-AME) section.

Dr Annie Cook (Fig.4) presented a collaborative work entitled, “a successful vaccine trial to control wildebeest-associated Malignant Catarrhal Fever in cattle.” The vaccine was noted to have an efficacy 92.2%.

Figure 4: Presentation on a successful vaccine trial to control wildebeest-associated Malignant Catarrhal Fever in cattle by Dr Annie Cook

Dr Kelvin Momanyi (Fig.5) presented a collaborative work as part of the NEOH case study entitled, “Evaluation of the implementation of One Health in Kenya: A case study of the Zoonotic Disease Unit”. The presentation noted that the One Health office in Kenya (the Zoonotic Disease Unit) had performed moderately from the evaluation applying the NEOH One Health framework with a One Health Index of 0.73269.

Figure 5: Presentation on Evaluation of the implementation of One Health in Kenya by Dr Kelvin Momanyi

Everybody needs to work together to address antibiotic resistance

This article was authored by Judy Bettridge. (Twitter @JudyBettridge)

Not that many years ago, I went to the doctor with a chesty cough that had been hanging around for several weeks.  Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered, but it made cycling to work difficult, so I went to get it checked out. The doctor gave me a course of antibiotics. After a week, I went back to report that they had made no difference to the cough at all. So he offered me a choice – did I want an inhaler or just some more antibiotics? I was rather surprised – surely the choice to take the antibiotics should not rest with me? He was the qualified professional, after all. Responsible antibiotic use was already widely promoted, so why was the medical professional suggesting simply dishing out more of these precious drugs to prolong a treatment that wasn’t working? Maybe he was simply having a bad day, but it seemed to me to show an irresponsible attitude towards the doctor’s role of antibiotic stewardship.

There are many reports of patients putting doctors under pressure to dispense antibiotics, and this is clearly problematic. In many cases, antibiotics are simply not an appropriate treatment and will make no difference to the speed of recovery, especially for viral illness. With widespread media coverage and advertising, many patients are now better informed about the problems of antimicrobial resistance, and that taking unnecessary antibiotics can put them and their families at risk of future infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Doctors are the best-placed to know what is circulating in their local area, and can advise patients when their symptoms are most likely to arise from viral infections – and patients need to be ready to listen and take their advice. However, as my experience shows, doctors may also fall into the trap of anticipating patient expectations for antibiotics where no such pressure exists. Negotiation and understanding between doctor and patient is much more likely to result in satisfaction on both sides – and better compliance with any medication that is prescribed.

Doctors are the best-placed to know what is circulating in their local area, and can advise patients when their symptoms are most likely to arise from viral infections – and patients need to be ready to listen and take their advice.

The very same issues arise in the veterinary profession, with vets and owners or farmers needing to discuss these complex decisions surrounding whether or not antibiotic use is appropriate on a case-by-case basis. Great progress has been made in many areas, especially in eliminating the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in Europe, but there is still much room for improvement. With so much information now available on the internet, it is not uncommon for people to come with very fixed ideas about what is wrong with their animal, and exactly what treatment they want. It is important to remember that many conditions that look the same can have very different causes. The bacteria in our bodies and our environment evolve and change over time, so that even two infections with identical symptoms may be caused by completely different bugs – which need a completely different antibiotic to treat them. For this reason, keeping and reusing antibiotics at a later date is never advisable –especially injectable drugs that can go off within a few weeks of opening. All antibiotics have an expiry date, and using less potent drugs to treat infections is another factor that can encourage antimicrobial resistance to develop.

keeping and reusing antibiotics at a later date is never advisable –especially injectable drugs that can go off within a few weeks of opening

Always check the expiry date of drugs

Where we work in East Africa, as in many other parts of the world, an additional problem is that antibiotic sales and use are frequently unregulated. A lot of commercial animal feed still contains antibiotics – so always check the label and ask the vet or seller if you are in any doubt. Good hygiene in animal production is much better as a preventative, as this can also help reduce viral and parasite infections that will not be helped by in-feed antibiotics in any case. If animals are sick, then involving a vet at an early stage is important to get the right treatment, rather than just buying a drug from an untrained seller and hoping for the best. Especially in remote rural areas, antibiotics may be on sale in the local kiosk, alongside the soap, candles and sweets. These are often human drugs, and so using them in animals is problematic – not only because they are not formulated to give the right dose for that species, but also because there are certain drugs that should simply not be used in animals. This may be because of dangerous residues that pass into the meat, eggs or milk, and so veterinary workers should always advise on how long to leave after treatment before animal products are safe to eat again. If they don’t offer this advice, along with clear instructions on how to use the drugs – ask!  The other reason not to buy antibiotics from unqualified sellers is that there are some drugs that we want to preserve for use in only humans. These critically important antimicrobials are needed to treat difficult and often life-threatening infections in humans that don’t respond to other drugs. Some may be used by vets as a last resort, but their use should always be closely supervised.

Good hygiene in animal production is much better as a preventative, as this can also help reduce viral and parasite infections that will not be helped by in-feed antibiotics in any case.

An antibiotic being administered to a cow

This is why this year’s theme for World Antibiotic Awareness week is “Seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking antibiotics”. Wherever you are in the world, this is sound advice. Advances in science mean that rapid diagnostic tests are coming ever closer, and within a few years, genetic identification not only of the organism causing the infection but also what drugs it is likely to respond to will be possible. This will allow a diagnosis within a few hours, rather than days to weeks it can take with current laboratory methods. Accurate diagnosis, antibiotic selection tailored to every individual case and open discussions between the healthcare professional and the patient or carer as to whether antibiotic use is appropriate in every circumstance are all part of tackling antimicrobial resistance. Whether the healthcare professional is a doctor, nurse, veterinary professional or pharmacist, by making the most of their knowledge to help guide the decision to use antibiotics, everyone can play their part in helping to guard these precious resources for future generations.

Accurate diagnosis, antibiotic selection tailored to every individual case and open discussions between the healthcare professional and the patient or carer as to whether antibiotic use is appropriate in every circumstance are all part of tackling antimicrobial resistance.

A Pilot Study to Investigate the potential for developing syndromic surveillance system based on meat inspection records in Western Kenya

Training of meat inspectors on how to use hand held device for syndromic surveillance

Article by Joseph Ogola, ZooLinK Consultant

During our field visits in preparation for the ZooLink research project, we selected Kimilili and Webuye slaughterhouses in Bungoma County to participate in the syndromic surveillance pilot study. The two facilities within the study area were identified based on infrastructure and the willingness of the two meat inspectors to participate in the project. The rationale of this pilot project is to assess the feasibility of using slaughterhouse data to enhance the coverage and efficiency of the surveillance system in the study area alongside the routine laboratory based surveillance system. We developed a data collection form from the monthly reports from meat inspection records which

The rationale of this pilot project is to assess the feasibility of using slaughterhouse data to enhance the coverage and efficiency of the surveillance system in the study area alongside the routine laboratory based surveillance system. We developed a data collection form from the monthly reports from meat inspection records which

We developed a data collection form from the monthly reports from meat inspection records which were loaded onto a handheld device. The form captures information related to the carcass inspection together with animal location and movement data. The two meat inspectors after a short training session were then provided with two mobile phones to use daily to record data
(including any relevant photos) of animals slaughtered over a 6 month period. The data collected are sent directly to our data management platform.

We look forward to share the outcomes of this study in subsequent editions of the newsletter!

 

Antigenic diversity in the African trypanosomes Trypanosoma congolense and Trypanosoma vivax

Blog entry authored by Sara Silva Pereira, PhD student University of Liverpool.

Trypanosomes are extracellular blood parasites, transmitted by the bite of tsetse flies and cause nagana, a wasting disease severely compromising both animal health and livestock productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nagana remains a challenge mainly due to the process of antigenic variation, employed by the para-site for immune evasion.

Blood sampling

I came to Busia to conduct a longitudinal experiment on natural cattle infections of T. congolense to better understand the process of antigenic switching. With the help of a local veterinary surgeon, we screened cattle across for trypanosomes using thin blood smears and high centrifugation technique and followed the infection in positive animals for a month, after which the animals were treated.

The collected materials will be subject to DNA and RNA sequencing and Mass Spectometry to characterise the genetic repertoire of the parasites and the antigens expressed over time.

Do livestock have a role in the emergence of disease in urban cities?

One of the primary objectives of the Urban Zoo project is to quantify and understand microbial diversity in an urban setting and to try and link that to urban livestock keeping. In so doing we aim to elucidate the possible role of livestock as a risk factor in the emergence of disease in cities.

To give us a handle on microbial diversity we have chosen commensal Escherichia coli as an indicator species, which we have isolated from samples taken from a diversity of sources across the city of Nairobi. These comprise people and their living spaces, including the food they eat; their immediate environments, including water sources, waste and wildlife; and the livestock that they keep either for their own consumption or for sale. From these samples we isolate and culture E. coli, extract their DNA, and perform whole genome sequencing, enabling us to compare isolates from different compartments and to determine how closely related they are, and thus how microorganisms might pass from one to another.

The collection of these samples has been guided by a highly structured sampling frame, which I described in Urban Zoo newsletter number 7. Essentially, we have selected 33 sub-locations in Nairobi representing a range of social strata and, within each, have chosen 3 households to sample: one with no livestock; one with only monogastric species (pigs or chickens); and one with ruminant livestock (sheep, goats or cattle); You can view the spatial maps at our earlier post by clicking here .

The collection of such comprehensive data from these 99 households was an enormous undertaking and has been a considerable logistical feat of coordination between the field and the laboratory. The good news is that the sampling is now complete, thanks to the heroic efforts of the field team, led by Judy Bettridge and James Akoko, and of our colleagues in the laboratories.

Overall, 2,351 samples have been collected and we managed to culture E. coli from 80% of these (1,850). Once the last few have been done this will give us 1,809 whole genome sequences to analyse. 327 of these are from people; 58 from the places where they prepare food; 64 from animal source foods (milk meat and eggs); 644 from 12 different species of livestock; 239 from the environment around the home-stead including water sources; and 477 from a wide diversity of wildlife in the vicinity of the household.

But it is not over yet. We will very soon have finalised the sequencing and now comes the equally challenging task of deciphering all of this genetic data to unveil the pattern of microbial diversity across Nairobi. Over to you Melissa!

On that note, I would like once again to congratulate the field and laboratory teams, and to wish everyone a great year ahead, 2017.

This article was authored by Dr. Timothy Robinson who is a co-principal investigator in the Urban Zoo project and also a principal scientist with ILRI’s Livestock Systems and Environment research group.

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