Healthy animals, healthier people

Pastoralists in Isiolo County (Kenya) live cheek by jowl with their animals – a closeness that brings with it risks to human health.


By Simon Gottwalt, Programme Officer

It’s the “small” rainy season in the north of Kenya: Our all-terrain vehicle has been stuck on the road from Isiolo to Merti for more than 30 minutes, following a cloud burst which transformed the road into a river. However, for the herders in the Horn of Africa the rain is a blessing. After several dry years, the 2018 “big” rainy season from March to May delivered abundant rainfall and now – in December – it seems that the small rainy season will as well. The grazing lands have not been this green for a long time.

Impending danger

However, rain harbours its own risks: Damp weather encourages certain diseases. For example, in April 2018, there was an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in our project region in Northern Kenya. Many animals died. Fortunately, there were fewer cases of the diseases spreading to humans than in the major epidemic of 2006/7. Biovision supports two projects in Isiolo County to improve animal and human health. I am on my way to find out whether and how our cooperation with the pastoralists contributed to the relatively mild course of the outbreak.

Pastoralists reliant on their own resources

The journey to the remote project region of Merti is a five-hour trip of some 200 kilometres on a road with a corrugated surface. There are no vets in the isolated villages around Merti and the herders are largely reliant on their own resources to keep their animals healthy. This is why Biovision,

through its projects “Camels for drought areas” and “One Health” supports a programme that trains local people on how to recognise key animal diseases. It focusses on diseases that can be transmitted to humans such as Rift Valley Fever and brucellosis. This type of disease transmission is also called zoonoses. To prevent such diseases, the pastoralists are taught to wear gloves before touching animals that are sick or about to give birth, to always boil milk before drinking it and to protect themselves from bites of the vector mosquitoes.

Digital nomads

A network of animal disease reporters is being established as part of the project “Camels for drought areas”. Thanks to good mobile phone coverage and a specially designed smartphone app, animal diseases can be reported immediately to government vets. The app has already passed its first serious test: One of the animal-disease reporters trained by our partner VSF-Suisse* successfully alerted the authorities of a suspected case of Rift Valley Fever. Thanks to better communication, this early-warning system can help save lives and money, benefiting both animals and humans.

“One Health”

My visit to the pilot project in Merti clearly showed how the lives of the pastoralists and their animals are closely intertwined. If human health is to be improved, then the health of animals and the environment must also be improved. This holistic approach is called “One Health” and Biovision is using this principle in several of its project.

* VSF: Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse

More information :

  • Farmers drinking milk
    Pathogens such as the brucella bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans by drinking fresh milk.
  • Birth of a goat
    Similarly, there is a significant risk of transmission to humans (zoonoses) when animals are giving birth.
  • Farmer with his mobile phone
    Animal-disease reporters use their mobile phones to send information to veterinary authorities on suspected outbreaks together with photos of sick animals.
  • Farmers check out a goat
    In Isiolo County (Kenya), Biovision and VSF-Suisse are training local villagers in the use of a disease early-warning system.