Poverty Reduction Through Animal Health

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Science  19 Jan 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5810, pp. 333-334
DOI: 10.1126/science.1138614

Livestock contribute to the livelihoods of roughly 70% of the world's poor (1), supporting farmers, consumers, traders, and laborers throughout the developing world (2). Furthermore, there is an increasing demand for livestock products for the growing and more affluent populations of many developing countries, particularly in Asia (3, 4), which offers new market opportunities for poor farmers. Animal diseases severely constrain livestock enterprises in developing countries but are not being given the attention they deserve by the global community.

The global animal health product market was worth $15 billion (U.S. dollars) in 2005, of which Western Europe, North America, East Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe held 97% of market, leaving ∼3% to Africa and South Asia (5). Of this market, 40% was targeted toward companion animals, and this proportion is growing (6). The global veterinary pharmaceutical industry puts ∼10% back annually into research and development (∼$1.5 billion) (6). Public-sector contributions to animal health research come mainly from wealthy economies, and target principally their domestic priorities, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathies (BSEs). For BSEs, the research budget in the United Kingdom for the financial year 2005–06 was roughly $25.7 million (7). Compare these figures with the estimated $20 million allocated over 10 years by the Animal Health Programme of the U.K.'s Department for International Development (DFID) to research targeted at developing countries (8).

Animal diseases can be divided into three categories (9): those that (i) influence the vulnerability and assets of smallholder livestock keepers, (ii) constrain increases in productivity, and (iii) constrain market access. Reducing vulnerability and improving market access are themes that appear in frameworks developed by the DFID to evaluate strategies for poverty reduction (10). Diseases affecting vulnerability are those causing high levels of mortality in key livestock species important to the poor (such as the seasonal epidemics of hemorrhagic septicemia of cattle and buffalo in South Asia and the epidemic waves of Newcastle disease of poultry in Africa and Asia) and those causing illness in their owners and keepers (such as brucellosis of cattle, small ruminants, and pigs in many regions). Diseases constraining productivity include those that are more pathogenic in nonindigenous breeds of livestock that are increasingly used to improve performance [such as the tick-borne disease East Coast fever (ECF) of cattle in eastern and southern Africa]. Diseases constraining market access include those in which human disease can be caused by consumption of meat or milk products (such as cysticercosis of pigs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America) and those spread by movement of animals or livestock products, such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) of ruminants and pigs.

A need for sustained vaccination programs.

Under the auspices of a project in Mozambique funded by the Australian Agency for International Development, a community animal health worker is seen vaccinating a village chicken against Newcastle disease. Unfortunately, the funding for that program ended in 2005.


Many developing countries are stuck in a time-warp of outdated service delivery systems that are incompatible with the needs of their poorer clients and are compromised by inadequate funding. The conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank two decades ago on loan agreements with borrowing nations precipitated attempts to privatize state-owned enterprises. This, in turn, resulted in dramatic cuts in social service programs, which have never recovered, particularly in parts of Africa (11).

What can science offer to this situation? New, more cost-effective approaches to delivery of animal health services are critical to poverty reduction processes, with greater incorporation of demand-led features that consider accessibility, acceptability, and sustainability as well (12). An essential component will be the growing set of participatory approaches used for disease surveillance, priority setting, and interventions (1115), as well as the growing understanding of how innovation systems can help tools reach the poorer sectors of society (16). Quantitative epidemiological sciences, in combination with economics tools, can aid in prioritization and in identifying the most cost-effective intervention strategies (17). In addition, there are the more high-tech tools of complex systems science modeling that show considerable promise (18), although these are data-hungry animals in a data-barren environment.

Vaccines are critical technologies for the prevention of infectious diseases (19), and here science has a major role to play. Vaccines are available for some diseases, but for many they are rudimentary, inadequate, or lacking. Many animal diseases prevalent in the developing world do not occur in the developed world. Of particular importance are the tsetse-transmitted trypanosomiases and the tick-borne ECF in Africa, for which safe and effective vaccines do not exist. These are complicated infections, but because their distributions are restricted to developing countries and the risk of their spreading beyond Africa is minimal, the research investment they have attracted has been relatively small. Encouragingly, the genome for Theileria parva, the cause of ECF, has been sequenced (20), providing new tools to approach an ECF vaccine, should funding become available. But even diseases that have shown potential to spread to the developed world, such as African swine fever (ASF) and African horse sickness (AHS), have not attracted the funding they arguably deserve. There is still no safe and effective vaccine against ASF, and there is little incentive outside Africa to develop one. Should ASF reemerge in Europe, countries would likely eradicate through slaughter and compensation, a policy that is not an option in most developing countries. There is a vaccine against AHS, but it was developed 40 years ago and does not meet the demands for more effective control in rural African communities, in which equines are economically important for farm work and transportation (21).

Even with diseases that clearly pose a global risk, such as FMD, the investment in new vaccines has focused primarily on products that respond to the needs of the West, rather than tackling the control of the disease at its source. FMD-free countries require vaccines that induce immunity rapidly in the face of an outbreak (to minimize further spread), with the induction of a long-lasting immunity unimportant (because many vaccinated animals will subsequently be slaughtered in order to allow the rapid resumption of FMD-free meat and animal exports). Neither are FMD-free countries interested in the thermostability of the vaccine (as refrigeration facilities are ubiquitous) or even the vaccine's price (relatively speaking). In contrast, developing countries require vaccines that protect for longer (so that herd immunity can be established and maintained in the face of weak veterinary services), are less reliant on a chain of cold facilities, and are affordable.

But there is some hope. The Wellcome Trust and the European Union (EU) have recently led the funding of an initiative to focus on the research needs of endemic FMD settings (22). Two years ago, the Wellcome Trust launched “Animal health in the developing world,” which now funds 12 projects (23), including one on African swine fever. Within this, there is a “Livestock for Life” scheme that supports smaller projects to strengthen links between stakeholders working in animal health. Both these initiatives contributed a total of $32 million to animal health research targeted at developing countries, which is impressive, but small when compared with the amount of money the United Kingdom is spending annually on BSE alone. In quite a different style, but with the same target audience, is the public-private partnership in the international animal health-pharmaceutical sector called GALVmed (24), with initial financial backing from the U.K.'s DFID. This organization was established to respond to market failures in development and delivery of animal health technologies targeted at developing countries. Although not a research organization per se, it is expected to fund adaptive research that promotes the tailoring of technologies to developing country settings.

There is growing concern in the developed world about changing disease distributions, including potential expansion of vector-borne diseases as a result of global warming (2528). This reflects an increasing awareness of the internationality of disease spread and the responsibility for leadership by those who can afford it, exemplified by the Foresight Programme of the U.K. government (29), and by the European Technology Platform in Global Animal Health (30). The latter aims to guide research in the EU over the next 10 years and will “take into account the globalized setting in which important diseases occur,” but will concentrate on animal diseases of priority to Europe.

Such initiatives will undoubtedly bring benefits to some developing countries, but they will be the result of “spill-over” effects. The focus of these initiatives is primarily on developing “new technologies for shared problems,” which, if we judge by history, will still need substantial tailoring for use in developing country environments, even if affordable. It is likely that many animal diseases of high significance to the assets and vulnerability of poor rural communities, to market access, or to the aspirations for improved productivity will not qualify for such global attention, given the low direct risk they pose to the developed world.

The capacity to develop and refine vaccines and other tools in research institutes of developing countries must be enhanced. One encouraging initiative is the creation of Biosciences for East and Central Africa (BecA) with funding from Canada (31). BecA has a hub located on the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, that will provide a biosciences research platform, research-related services, and capacity building. A great idea— but current funding is for infrastructure development, meaning that much work is yet to be done to secure operational resources and to build effective research partnerships. Another promising model is the South African Chairs Initiative (SARChI) of the South African National Research Foundation, designed to help reverse the systemic decline in research outputs and capacity at national science councils and research institutions (32). SARChI aims to create 210 new research chairs in South Africa by 2010.

Despite some encouraging new initiatives, we conclude that sectors of the affluent world are still basing their science contributions to poverty reduction on self-interest, relying on the spillovers from investments designed primarily to protect themselves. At the moment, only the crumbs go to the poor.

References and Notes

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