Healthy herds, Healthy humans


Healthy herds, Healthy humans

A 'cool' relationship between humans and livestock

Cows, goats and other livestock are walking bank accounts in many developing nations.

“You don’t go to Bank of America, you go to livestock,” said clinical assistant professor Jennifer Zambriski of Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. 

“There’s this really cool relationship that exists in which livestock promote the health of a household,” she said. “Want to send your child to school? Sell a goat. Need to buy medicine? Sell a chicken,” she said.

People who own livestock are better able feed to their families, send their children to school and provide for their medical needs. What’s more, consumed animal protein boosts nutrition, said Zambriski.

“Animals provide major financial and nutritional assets to these families,” she said.

Which is why, in 2012, WSU launched a program in Kenya to track the health and livelihood of families and the livestock they own. Called the Population Based Animal Syndromic Surveillance project, it involves community interviewers pedaling bicycles to 1600 homes every two weeks to gather information. After collecting data on handheld computers, the information is uploaded on a secure server to enable a joint WSU and Kenyan team to analyze the information to identify interventions that will have the most impact.  Community participation is linked to provision of health care for both humans and animals.

 “The idea is to figure out how to improve the health and productivity of animals, and then measure the improvement via human development, health, and education” said Guy Palmer, director of the Allen School.

Onsite teamwork and beyond

The project is led onsite by Samuel Thumbi Mwangi, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Allen School, working with his staff and research partners from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Washington. 

The surveillance work is leading to new insights in detecting disease as well as the economic impact of owning livestock, said Zambriski.

“There is really no project like it in the world,” she said.