Social, Economic and Environmental Drivers of Zoonoses in Tanzania (SEEDZ)

Issued: Mon, 18 Aug 2014 22:40:00 BST

CleavelandKaoMatthews, Sharp, Thomas

Livestock, Livelihoods & Health project website

Livestock are critical for the food security and livelihoods of almost 600 million people worldwide, and represent an important resource that has the potential to support economic development of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. However, livestock also act as a source of zoonoses, diseases that can be transmitted to people from animals. There is growing recognition that zoonotic diseases have a profound impact on the health and livelihoods of some of the world's poorest people. This is especially the case for endemic zoonoses that are widespread in low-income countries, including Tanzania.

The zoonotic diseases that are the focus of this study, brucellosis, Q-fever and Rift Valley Fever (RVF), can all result in livestock production losses and cause severe fever-causing illnesses in people, with the potential for chronic disability (brucellosis and Q fever), as well as fatal haemorrhagic disease (RVF). Zoonoses that causing fevers are particularly problematic because they are difficult to diagnose on symptoms alone, and in sub-Saharan Africa are almost always misdiagnosed, often as malaria, with serious consequences for human health.

Livestock systems in Africa are undergoing rapid transition. Changes in market dynamics, land-use and agricultural policy, environmental factors, cultural practices and technology are all changing the way people keep and manage livestock, both for food and as sources of income. However, the consequences of these changes on zoonotic disease risk are almost unknown.

This project will use the case of Tanzania to explore the nature of livestock systems, focusing on two systems undergoing rapid transition:

  1. the pastoral-wildlife sector affected particularly by expansion of crop-based agriculture, and
  2. the peri- urban livestock sector.

Within these systems, we will compare communities that vary in relation to their connectivity with urban centres and wildlife areas to characterise drivers of change (environmental, social, economic, demographic and governance). We will examine how these relate to risks of diseases transmitted to people from animals and how these diseases affect household livelihoods and poverty.

We will first develop models of disease risk using information on these three zoonotic diseases in northern Tanzania. From this, we will produce a model that can be applied to several other zoonotic diseases and which will allow us to anticipate how drivers may affect livestock systems and zoonotic disease risks in the future.

Throughout the project, quantitative epidemiological approaches and disease modelling will be complemented by qualitative research (including interviews, focus group discussions and participatory methods) to enable researchers to understand patterns of risk of disease transmission but also the reasoning that lies behind people's decisions to respond (or not) to this risk. This will also help to ensure that policy interventions to mitigate disease risk are developed in a way that is appropriate to, and therefore more likely to be accepted by, the communities in question.

This project is necessarily interdisciplinary and is jointly led by an epidemiologist and a social scientist, which will ensure that scientific and social scientific issues and mutual understanding between disciplines remain central to the project.

The international team represents wide-ranging expertise in livestock systems, disease modelling, qualitative social sciences, economics, and development, and also includes policy-makers at national and international levels to inform study design and dissemination approaches that will maximise the uptake of research findings.

Annual meetings and regular Skype calls will ensure the exchange of ideas between disciplinary and national backgrounds and will enhance interaction and mentoring between staff at different stages of their careers. The project provides a valuable platform for training opportunities and capacity-building.


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