Tracking the movements of people and their livestock
As 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!
Article authored by Jessica Floyd, PhD student, University of Southampton, UK.
Freshwater Vector Snails and their Infection with Trematode cercariae in Busia County
In this study, we sought to identify snail species infected with Trematode cercariae and environmental factors that correlate with their presence. This was undertaken to better understand the underlying biology of these species to better understand the risk of transmission of livestock- and human-infectious trematodes.
We found that lymnaeid snails were widely distributed in all the agro-ecological zones (AEZs) we studied, and were the majority snail
at low altitudes. Biomphalariae, Bulinus, Oncomelaniae and Melanoides were present in some but not all of the zones. The study found that snails were more abundant in streams originating from springs and swamps near the shores of Lake Victoria. Biomphalariae and Lymnaeid species were found to be infected with trematode cercariae. The B. sudanica species found in the swamps near the lakeshore were infected with both Fasciola gigantica and Schistosoma mansoni pointing to a co-existence of Schistosoma and Fasciola infection at the site. The relative abundance of vector snails was found to be influenced by water pH, water temperature, ambient temperature and vegetation cover.
The presence of vector snails and cercariae in all of the zones points to the presence of possible transmission foci for Schistosomiasis, Fascioliasis and other foodborne trematodiases. People and animals using water and pasture from these sites in western Kenya are at a risk of contracting these parasitic infections.
Control of foodborne trematode infection should be targeted in all the AEZ’s with emphasis placed on the areas that border the lake and those with streams flowing from springs.
Article by Maurice Omondi Owiny, Resident, Kenya FELTP. Resident, Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme based at the International Livestock Research Institute
Letter from the PI: Introducing the ZooLink Suite of Projects
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 www.zoonotic-diseases.org 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.
Co PI’s Letter: Planning and Policy Thread
Our projects policy team aims to examine the links between social-environmental and spatial conditions and the microbial diversity that people are exposed to in urban and peri-urban areas. It also seeks to outline the institutional and planning context in which zoonotic diseases develop in Nairobi, and how this is shaped by spatial fragmentation.
In cooperation with Slums Dweller International-Kenya and APHRC, the Team previously collected data through a variety of means, including co-producing knowledge with local communities. In partnership with IIED, we have produced working papers, conference papers and policy briefs to showcase the results, with some currently being submitted to journals. Under the guidance of Prof. Muki Haklay and Dr. Sohel Ahmed, UCL post-graduate student Maayan Ashkenazi wrote a fascinating MRes dissertation on the different livestock keeping strategies by women in the low-income settlement of Mathare. She found that these not only vary according to the women’s economic abilities but along multi-scalar social and social characteristics arising from living in different villages within Mathare.
In our work we have also sought to build on the decade-long efforts of APHRC in gathering a rich array of primary information on health in informal settlements. We also found that not much attention has been paid in the literature to the planning, policy and structural issues that would appear to play a significant role in reproducing and entrenching endemic pathogenic environmental conditions, conditions that make disease (including zoonoses) prevalent in these settlements. Part of our work has involved outlining the institutions, actors, norms, practices, interactions, their (in) adequacy and complexities around the provision of infrastructure (water, sanitation and solid waste management) that promotes and perpetuates such pathogenic conditions in many parts of Nairobi. We have also sought to examine how legal, policy and institutional realities have influenced urban and peri-urban land use in Nairobi, and how such practices and interventions help shape livestock keeping and farming activities.
To that effect, earlier this year Dr. Sohel Ahmed conducted a series of interviews with research scholars, planners and policy makers in Nairobi. The results suggest that urban and peri-urban agriculture, including livestock keeping, are still not considered a legitimate urban land use neither in the Nairobi Master Plan and land-use maps, nor in the daily practice of local government officials. As a result of antagonistic views towards pro-poor informal farming from planners and other powerful actors, we argue that urban agriculture, particularly livestock keeping in Nairobi and its periphery, is unlikely to survive the effects of the rapid increases in land prices seen in Nairobi in recent years. This is partly the result of a lack of reliable investment alternatives, but also the result of inadequate or non-existent land-value capture mechanisms and an effective regulatory framework that guides growth and allows price increases to be re-invested in much needed infrastructure that benefits the city as a whole. Rapid urbanisation is accompanied by continued land speculation, rapid appearance of multi-storey buildings and conversion of large tracks of agricultural land to urban uses. As tracts of land become sub-divided into smaller plots, there is an observable shift to zero-grazing forms of livestock keeping (e.g. poultry). Hence, livestock and their material flows (i.e. meat, dairy and poultry) are continuously moving further away from central Nairobi.
Despite the 2010 constitutional reform allowing Nairobi County to prepare its own plan and control development under an ‘integrated development planning’ framework, in reality the County has little say over where new infra-structure, particularly electricity and roads, should be located. Water, roads and electricity are controlled by para-statals, thus taking away from the County government the power to decide on crucial components of its current and future growth. The County’s chronic institutional and resource deficiencies mean that the city will continue to allocate resources in such a way that mostly benefits a minority of residents, thus entrenching an east-west socio-economic divide. The inadequate and unsafe provision of water, sanitation and solid waste management has severe public health consequences for residents of poorer areas. Poor infrastructure places some people and their livestock at increasing risk of communicable diseases, and helps reproduce the conditions leading to chronic expo-sure to higher microbial diversity.
Julio D Dávila is Professor of Urban Policy and International Development, and Director of the Development Planning Unit, University College London.