Bhagyalaksmi Chengat

Title: ZELS Food safety interventions in periurban dairy farming systems in West Africa

Contact Bhagyalakshmi:

About Bhagya: I am a veterinarian trained in India and have been working as a research assistant on zoonotic diseases and other livestock diseases, since I finished MSc in Control of infectious diseases in animals. As a ZELS-AS PhD student, I will be studying food safety of milk borne pathogens in periurban dairy farming systems in West Africa. From E coli O157:H7 to tapeworms food borne diseases pose a global threat with a huge impact in developing countries. I am excited about the opportunity to work on the topic I am passionate about and that has a significant impact on human lives. I feel extremely grateful to be part of ZELS cohort. It will be enlightening to interact with researchers from different disciplines. I am really looking forward to be part of a global network of experienced and young researchers.

Outline: Periurban dairy farming is an expanding livestock system in West Africa where it contributes to food security and dietary diversity by supplying milk and dairy products to rapidly growing urban populations. However, periurban dairy farms are also a source of milk-borne zoonotic pathogens. In a context of scarce resources, it is critical that specific pathogens are prioritized and risk mitigation strategies selected on the basis of the likely public health benefits of their adoption. Furthermore, strategies must be acceptable by livestock keepers and consumers. In this project, epidemiological field studies will be conducted to estimate the frequency of and identify farm-level risk factors for selected milk-borne pathogens in some of the main periurban dairy production zones of West Africa. Probabilistic risk assessment will be used to quantify the impact of implementing specific risk mitigation strategies at pre-harvest, harvest and postharvest level on the probability of human exposure. The results from two parallel studies, one evaluating knowledge, attitudes and practices of periurban dairy farmers with regard to brucellosis, the second assessing the economic impact of brucellosis for this group of farmers, will inform this project to ensure that tested interventions are feasible and acceptable. This PhD studentship is linked to a project funded by the ZELS initiative and it will align with others in the ZELS Associated Studentships (ZELS-AS) programme through common interests in developing interdisciplinary approaches to tackle zoonotic diseases. The project will involve key stakeholders currently working on the safety of food of animal origin in West Africa to ensure maximum policy impact. Study results will be incorporated into capacity building activities planned as part of the ZELS project within which this PhD project will take place.

Supervisors: Javier Guitan (RVC); Steven Van Winden (RVC)