New HALI Project Research Brief!

The Livestock and Climate Change Change CRSP has just released a new HALI project Research Brief featuring results of research conducted in the first year of new CRSP activities in Ruaha, Tanzania as part of the Strengthening Tanzanian Livestock Health and Pastoral Livelihoods in a Changing Climate project.  The brief, entitled “Pastoralist Access to Livestock Health Services: Implications for Climate Change-Driven Disease” is available for download on the LCC CRSP website.

RB-07-2012 – Pastoralist Access to Livestock Health Services: Implications for Climate Change-Driven Disease

Ian Gardner, E. VanWormer, C.R. Gustafson, G. Paul, A. Makweta, J.A.K. Mazet, W.A. Miller, and R.Kazwala, HALI Project

Pastoralists and livestock populations in semi-arid grassland regions across the world are extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts on water, pasture, and disease dynamics.  Disease, especially, can have devastating effects on livestock survival and marketability, threatening animal health and livelihoods.  In order to address this growing problem, researchers working in the Ruaha region of Tanzania have been preforming capacity assessments of the livestock health services available to rural pastoralists.


A tribute to Mr. Ally Kitime – friend and scientist

Mr. Ally Kitime, our friend and scientist.

With sad hearts and fond memories, HALI said goodbye to longtime project friend and colleague Ally Kitime this month.  Ally was a part of HALI from the beginning, as the Sokoine University of Agriculture Faculty of Veterinary Medicine’s Laboratory Manager and Principle Technician. His kind smile, gentle demeanor, and dedication to his work is best exemplified by the publications he enabled and those he helped graduate and train. Many of us on the HALI team, Harrison Sadiki, Deana Clifford, Woutrina Miller, Khadijah Said, Julius John, Enos Kamani, Annette Kitambi, Annette Roug, Liz VanWormer, and myself all learned from Ally, from his vast experience in the realm of laboratory diagnostics, and from his demeanor: no matter how stressful the project or intense the meeting there was always time for a smile, for a habari, and to remember that relationships and family trump an agenda.

I first met Ally when working on my masters project in Tanzania as a UC Davis student in 2008.  I will always find it ironic that my first laboratory experience was in Africa, and my first laboratory instructor Ally with help from friend and then HALI coordinator Deana Clifford.  Ally, Deana, and I were working with a young Bachelor’s honor student Enos Kamani on a project to determine the prevalence of Cryptosporidium and Giardia in calves in pastoralist herds.  Enos and I were training on the diagnostic technique, using an immuno-fluorescence microscope.  From that time, to the present, when my relationship with Ally was no longer face to face, but voice to voice on weekly Skype meetings with the PREDICT project, Ally was a trusted and respected colleague, a happy man in a white coat whose legacy lives on in the work of the students and collaborators he touched and in the lives of the family he leaves behind.  God bless you Ally, safari njema bwana…

We will preserve this post on the HALI blog as a remembrance  page for Ally.  Please click this link to visit the Tribute Page.  Comments and memories of your experiences with Ally are most welcome, so feel free to add them as comments.  If you would like to share pictures, please contact me (, and I will incorporated them into this post as a slideshow.

Photo of the week

A herder walks with sheep and goats to water. (Photo by Misty Richmond)

Walking for water (Part 2)…

Last week we posted a photo of two Maasai women carrying buckets of water from the local creek to their homes for domestic use. This week we present Part 2 of the water saga.  In the Ruaha area, as is the case with most pastoralist communities, herders escort their animals from their bomas (livestock pens) to water on a daily basis, sometimes several times per day depending on the season, distance to water and the heat.  As water sources dwindle due to climatic variability, these walks grow longer and more strenuous for the animals and their herders.  On many occasions, we have accompanied pastoralists on these walks, only to find the creeks dry and water quality so low that we had to dig into the creek beds to allow water to bubble to the surface for the animals.  In the dry season especially, wildlife, livestock and people congregate at these limited watering holes, which become ideal interfaces for exposure to zoonotic and waterborne pathogens. HALI’s disease education program has been working with pastoralist communities to better  understand the health risks associated with sharing water sources with animals, and have been very successful in increasing adoption rates of water treatment practices like boiling, UV radiation, and filtration.

Check out some of our research briefs on water quality and use in the Ruaha area for more information.

You can click on this link to read more about the video: why even water in containers at home, like the buckets carried by the Maasai women, may still be at risk for contamination with water-borne and zoonotic diseases.

Do you celebrate World Tuberculosis Day?

It is almost that time again, time to bring attention to the several million people who die from tuberculosis each year, and the subsequent impact on their families and community.  World Tuberculosis Day is March 24th, commemorating the day that Robert Koch announced the discovery of the cause of tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. At times like these, I’m never sure if advocacy groups intend for the public to celebrate the occasion, or simply pay attention to the issue and leverage the publicity for action. So, my personal answer to the question “Do you celebrate World TB Day?” is no. I do not. Instead, I thought I would share the HALI team’s approach to addressing the problem of tuberculosis in Tanzania, and highlight what action is already underway.

Tuberculosis is an ancient disease, one that has afflicted humans since communities began to aggregate in larger groups.  But tuberculosis does not just infect humans.  TB is zoonotic, and there are a variety of Mycobacterium strains that are infectious to animals and people.  In East Africa, one of these strains, Mycobacterium bovis, can infect and cause disease in wildlife, livestock, and people. In cattle, it is often recognized through abortions, or when animals are slaughtered for food by the presence of lesions in bodily tissues, sometimes the lungs or spleen.  But M. bovis infection is rare in humans, unless you live in close proximity to animals and rely on them for your livelihood.

Throughout East Africa, communities like the Maassai, Turkana, Sukuma, Barabaig, and Dinka continue to practice traditional livestock husbandry, which for these pastoralist groups is characterized by a nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock production system reliant on extensive grazing and flexible movement of herds and households to available water sources and pasture. In these communities, risks for transmission of M. bovis from animal to people is especially high, as infection occurs when the bacterium is ingested, often through unpasteurized milk or raw or undercooked meat.

HALI has been working with pastoralists in the Ruaha ecosystem of Tanzania to better understand how animals and people are infected with M.bovis and other strains of TB, and how best to prevent exposure and disease in animals and people.  Through a ‘healthy herds make healthy people’ approach, the project worked at first to understand the prevalence and transmission pathways of tuberculosis to cattle herds in the area, and investigated the underlying socio-economic challenges influencing household health and livelihoods.

Watch HALI’s field team test cattle for TB…

With a better understanding of the transmission dynamics behind tuberculosis in herds, HALI researchers then began investigating wildlife and environmental sources of infection, by collecting and analyzing samples from water and soil.  Working with a team led by Elizabeth Wellington at the University of Warwick, new methods for detecting TB in the environment are now being investigated and validated.  Concurrently, through funding from the National Institutes of Health, Goodluck Paul is leading a new effort to better understand TB transmission dynamics between herds and households through a partnership with the Tanzania National Institute of Medical Research and the University of California, San Francisco.  This partnership is a true One Health collaboration, with medical doctors and veterinarians teaming up in the field and visiting pastoralist bomas. The teams are testing both animals and people for exposure to TB, research that when combined with the environmental transmission pathways research, will help inform better strategies to combat TB infection in animals and people and reduce the overall TB burden in the Ruaha area.

For more information on HALI’s NIH project or tuberculosis research, please contact the HALI team.

To learn more about World Tuberculosis Day, please visit USAID’s Global Health World TB Day site.

Click on the link to download USAID’s full FY2010 Report to Congress on the Global TB Context [PDF, 2.2MB].

Photo of the week

Photo by Misty Richmond

A day in the life: two Maasai women return from the creek with water for the morning's washing and cooking. (Photo by Misty Richmond)

How far do you walk for water each day?  Does your distance to water impact how much you use?

On the morning this photo was taken, HALI’s fabulous photographer Misty Richmond went with her new friends to participate in the morning chores.  After a half hour hike through the forest with the goats, sheep, and calves, they arrived at the creek, filled the buckets and headed home. They let Misty carry a bucket, for a little while, until they realized there would be no water left. Water quantity as well as quality are important for health, and access to water close by is associated with sanitation and hygiene – water for drinking, cooking, and washing.  So, the next time the faucet is running in your house, think of how many buckets you’re filling, and how you will manage to balance them on your head.

Novel lyssavirus discovered in Tanzania

I'm an incidental host, I swear!

This week the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Disease journal published a study showing evidence of a novel lyssavirus detected from brain samples of an African civet in the Serengeti ecosystem of Tanzania.

What does this mean? Well, essentially an African civet displaying rabies like symptoms was shot by Serengeti National Park (SNP) rangers in May of 2009, after the civet had bitten a child in an unprovoked attack.  Because SNP implements a rabies control program, park rangers were trained to take samples of the civet for analysis.  Brain tissue is the best sample type for detecting rabies virus, so a portion of the civets brain was taken to the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Dar es Salaam.

At the lab, scientists extracted RNA from the samples, and then with colleagues at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in the UK, detected a novel strain from the lyssavirus family using molecular techniques (e.g. pan-lyssavirus reverse transcriptase PCR).  The new virus, called Ikoma Lyssavirus (IKOV),  is highly divergent from rabies virus, though the civet’s behavior indicates it can cause rabies-like symptoms.  The child was treated with the post-exposure rabies vaccination and given wound care, and at the time of the report was well.  However, it is not known if the vaccine is effective against the new virus.

Phylogenetic relationships of all currently identified lyssavisures compared with Ikoma lyssavirus from the African civet.

This was the first detected case of rabies in SNP since 2000, but because the civet was infected with a novel lyssavirus, it is not considered a breach in the rabies control program.  Also, because lyssaviruses like rabies are infrequently detected in civets, it is assumed the animal was acting as an incidental host, which means that it was most likely infected through another animal, perhaps a bat.  This study demonstrates the importance of wildlife surveillance for public health, and projects like HALI working through the PREDICT project of USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threat program, are investigating wildlife, including bats, to better understand what viruses are circulating in wildlife and how best to prevent human exposure and respond to potential outbreaks.

To learn more about HALI’s role in the PREDICT project, feel free to contact the HALI team.

Adapting to climate change in eastern and southern Africa

In eastern and southern Africa, livelihoods are heavily dependent on agriculture and the natural resource base for subsistence.  These livelihoods are under threat from the uncertainty of a changing climate, and research organizations like the IUCN and HALI are leading projects to better understand how climate change will impact ecosystems, biodiversity, economies and livelihoods through activities like the Climate Change and Development Project.

In partnership with the Livestock – Climate Change CRSP, HALI is building on a year’s worth of research focused on the capacity of livestock systems to respond to health threats posed by climate variability, and is working towards better understanding microclimates, adaptation strategies, and human health and nutrition in the Ruaha ecosystem of Tanzania.  Led by our Staff Scientists and Post-doctoral researchers Liz VanWormer and Chris Gustafson of UC Davis, activities are just now getting underway as the team plans visits and assessments to villages in the Idodi and Pawaga wards, Iringa District.

We will be featuring some research briefings from the HALI CRSP team on their livestock capacity assessment project soon, and will also feature updates on new activities at local primary schools, pastoralist villages, and livestock extension centers as they get underway.