The Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) has unveiled an ambitious plan to empower African livestock keepers by facilitating the development of the tools they need to control African animal trypanosomiasis, also known as nagana – or simply tryps— a disease considered to be “one of Africa’s greatest constraints to socio-economic development”.
By Henry Neondo
Trypanosomiasis is transmitted by tse-tse flies and causes annual losses estimated at up to US$ 5 billion.
GALVmed has been awarded £8 million (US$ 12.8m) by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to enable a start to be made on a bold five-year partnership work programme.
Steve Sloan, GALVmed CEO, said “initially GALVmed’s role will be catalytic, injecting new energy into tryps research and securing the funding necessary to make real progress. We recognise that tryps is an intractable problem that has engaged many of the best minds in the sector. So, the implementation of our plan to develop a better tryps toolkit will see the world’s best scientists working closely with the world’s top veterinary pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies”.
He says the first step will be to review current control options and scan the horizon to identify promising on-going research that could lead to better tools.
The focus, he said will be on tools that can be used at the level of the individual livestock keeper, including better drugs, diagnostics and perhaps even a vaccine.
Modibo Traoré, FAO’s Assistant Director-General, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, said “Tryps is one of the most significant challenges facing Africa as it looks towards the twenty first century and DFID is to be congratulated for its imagination and courage in funding this initiative. There is no silver bullet and no one organisation will solve it alone. In this respect GALVmed’s energetic and inclusive approach will be an added advantage. I know that GALVmed is encouraged by the progress that has been made and it is right that their intervention will be complementary, because collaborative science is the way forward. Forging partnership, with a range of stakeholders, including the Private Sector, is essential to strengthening efforts.”
The research groups who are working on the most promising leads will be invited to join forces with GALVmed.
In developing the current initiative, GALVmed’s board and management has been inspired by recent successes in the control of the closely related human disease -sleeping sickness, which is also transmitted by tsetse flies.
A public-private partnership between the World Health Organisation and several pharmaceutical companies has seen the number of sleeping sickness cases in Africa drop by more than 80 per cent over the past four years.
And the campaign ‘Stamp Out Sleeping Sickness’ (SOS), involving partners from universities in Uganda and Edinburgh, a veterinary pharmaceutical company, private philanthropists and national authorities, has succeeded in halting the spread of the disease in Uganda.
“Our scoping work over the past two years has revealed research which appears to have high-potential to lead to powerful new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. We will maximise the chances of success by building on these leads. Our ‘portfolio approach’ means we will constantly and rigorously review the performance of the different research and development components, channeling resources to those areas that show the most potential and stopping those that fail to deliver against their initial promise. This approach and the recent progress made in the control of sleeping sickness gave DFID the confidence to make its first major investment in tryps research for more than a decade,” he said.
An estimated 50 million cattle and 70 million sheep and goats are at risk of Trypanosomosis and some 3 million cattle die from the disease annually.
Tryps reduces meat and milk production, prevents the use of draft oxen for land cultivation in tsetse-infested areas and acts as a deterrent to upgrading low-yielding local breeds of livestock.
This affects over 10 million square kilometres of fertile land spread across nearly 40 countries in Africa and therefore has a huge impact on food and nutritional security and livelihoods across the continent.
UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development Stephen O’Brien said: “This is a disease that ruins the lives of poor farmers across Africa who depend on their livestock to get by. Their ability to get food, pay for medicine or buy education materials for their children is intrinsically linked to the health of their cattle, sheep and goats. Tryps is causing serious loss of livestock and driving up poverty across Africa.
“This new research promises to find simple, effective ways to tackle this disease, and to put those tools straight into the hands of those who need them most.”
According to Baptiste Dungu, GALVmed Senior Director: Research & Development, the development of a vaccine has often been considered impossible and there has been little to show for work done on new drugs since the 1950s and 60s.
“But by bringing together a stellar cast of the best scientists, companies and leaders, and building on a handful of very promising leads we have a real opportunity to reignite research toward the development of control tools for this devastating disease. It is also our hope that this funding will be a trigger to stimulate more funding from other donors toward African Animal Trypanosomosis,” he said.
Published in Exclusive Partnership with Newsfromafrica.org