Field notes: Batting it out in Morogoro

HALI is working with a star PhD student from UC Davis, Nistara Randhawa, on a project using sensors and satellite collars to track fruit bat movement and migration patterns in areas where our field teams are sampling bats for potentially zoonotic viruses. She shared a great update from the field of her work capturing and collaring fruit bats...

Here are some pictures from yesterday's session. We've got some local people helping hold long bamboo poles so we can catch the bats (else they were flying too high - although more often then not, they just fly over and below the net now). The collaring went smooth (and we used adhesives for one).... The colorful net thing is kind of like a beach house for the bats, where we put them till they get sedated or recovered. Today we sampled 22 bats... tomorrow we sample some more, and then head towards Iringa/Udekwa.
 

Big data and analytics!

The HALI team is all together (at least most of us) this week in Bagamoyo for a series of data review meetings and workshops for the Viral Sharing and Rift and Brucella Projects. The team is reviewing data collected from these One Health infectious disease surveillance projects and working together on solutions for successful completion of the projects later this year, along with brainstorming about potential publications and new directions this research could lead. Check out a few shots from the meeting kindly provided by Brian Bird, aka Daktari Ndege highlighting some of HALI's work on bat tracking, wildlife sampling, and viral detection.

 

 

Nistara, a PhD student from UC Davis presenting data from some really fascinating bat tracking studies.

Nistara, a PhD student from UC Davis presenting data from some really fascinating bat tracking studies.

Our One Health Officer presenting on wildlife work. 

Our One Health Officer presenting on wildlife work. 

Lab gurus presenting on viral findings  

Lab gurus presenting on viral findings  

Mwokozi, Robert, and Goodluck brainstorming and sharing brilliant insights. 

Mwokozi, Robert, and Goodluck brainstorming and sharing brilliant insights. 

HALI team presenting at One Health EcoHealth in Melbourne this week

We are proud of our HALI team presenting at One Health EcoHealth Conference this week in Melbourne, Australia. On Monday, Zikankuba Sijali (Dr. Popo) was part of a panel presentation led by Dr. Jonna Mazet (HALI's co-founder) and gave a great talk titled "Bats and Bushmeat: Targeting high-risk taxa and behaviors for prevention of viral spillover."  Later, Professor Rudovick Kazwala (HALI's other co-founder) will be speaking.

You can keep up to date on events at the conference via Twitter using the #oheh2016 hashtag.

HALI's own Dr. Zikankuba Sijali (Dr. Popo) delivering his talk on bats and bushmeat at OHEH 2016.

HALI's own Dr. Zikankuba Sijali (Dr. Popo) delivering his talk on bats and bushmeat at OHEH 2016.

PREDICT launches One Health surveillance in the Lake Zone

Last week our PREDICT Tanzania team with members from HALI partners Ifakara Health Institute, Sokoine University of Agriculture, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization launched the first field-based surveillance operation in the Lake Zone (near the borders with Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda).

Using the One Health approach, the team will sample wildlife, livestock, and people and conduct behavioral risk investigations all in an attempt to better understand mechanisms behind viral spillover and spread and zoonotic disease emergence. The team kicked off the trip with community sensitization meetings in villages to introduce the project and work with community members to identify potential high-risk interfaces for human and animal contact.

Stay tuned for more news from the Lake Zone as this exciting work is just getting started...

Dr. Grace Mwangoka, PREDICT Tanzania's human surveillance coordinator leads a community meeting in the Lake Zone.

Dr. Grace Mwangoka, PREDICT Tanzania's human surveillance coordinator leads a community meeting in the Lake Zone.

Batmen at Chita

HALI's now famous Dr. Popo (Zikankuba Sijali, the bat doctor), Chris Kilonzo, and our newly minted One Health Officer, Alphonce Msigwa have been hard at work scoping sites and sampling wildlife as part of HALI's zoonotic disease investigations for our PREDICT and viral sharing between human and animal populations projects.  They've been sending us field updates on a pretty regular basis over WhatsApp, which is proving to be a great tool for real-time situational awareness. Plus with that hardcore encryption it even passes HIPAA standards so is certified secure for protecting the privacy of our stakeholders and research participants.  

One of the team's latest updates came from Chita, a small village in the Udzungwa Mountains area of Tanzania where our team has been working with a local health clinic to sample patients with febrile illnesses to find out if there are fevers of unknown origin that may be zoonotic and potentially caused by viruses transmitted by wildlife like bats that often roost in people's homes or from monkeys in local forests where people frequently go to hunt, gather, and spend time. Who doesn't love a forest?  

I scraped the pics in this slideshow from our WhatsApp feed and added Zika's captions along with a few of my own for clarity to highlight one day in the life of this bat sampling crew, this time working in a village setting targeting micro bats that roost in the roofs of homes and prove to be quite a nuisance for the Chita residents. Thanks to Zika and our One Health Officer's efforts, the HALI team has been doing a good job sticking up for bats and promoting conservation for the ecosystem services they provide (eating insects and mosquitoes a huge one in an endemic malaria zone). But there is certainly a lot of work to be done to mitigate the risks for disease transmission, even some easy fixes like low cost improvements to homes to prevent the bats from moving in and taking up residence by adding screens and repairing ceiling panels. But low cost is not no cost, so until there is a Chita Champion the HALI team will keep working with the community on zoonotic disease outreach and prevention ideas.

 

Zena Babu Keeps the Diverse Teams and Their Data in Line

Zena Babu is a HALI administrator and data manager originally from Mwanga, Kilimanjaro. A graduate of SUA, Zena holds a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness and is currently pursuing a masters degree in economics at SUA.

Before joining HALI, she worked for FINCA (Foundation for International Community Assistance) as a business load officer. She also interned with the Major Drilling Tanzania company in Mwanza.

With HALI, Zena manages the finiancial system, budgets, project data and works as a project administrator, helping to coordinate research activities. 

Mwokozi Mwanzalila Works on Livestock & Climate Change

Mwokozi Mwanzalila is a HALI field research assistant who grew up in Kipera, a village in Iringa Rural District. Mwokozi was a HALI intern while he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Community Development at Tumaini University.

He now works on HALI’s Livestock and Climate Change CRSP project, providing livestock health and human nutrition education pastoralist households near Ruaha National Park. Mwokozi has also volunteered with a Village Community Bank project focusing on capacity building for entrepreneurship and with Restless Development providing education on sexual reproductive health and peer advising.

HALI Team at the Nane Nane Agricultural Fair (PHOTOS)

The HALI team presented on the PREDICT Tanzania project at the Nane Nane Agricultural Fair in Morogoro last week.

Nane Nane Day recognizes the economic importance of farmers in Tanzania. "Nane Nane" translates to "eight eight" (August 8th) in Swahili. The Agricultural Fair takes place throughout Tanzania and allows farmers and other agricultural stakeholders (like HALI and PREDICT) to share ideas and showcase their work. The HALI team represented the Sokoine University of Agriculture and PREDICT Project at this year's event. Enjoy a few photos! 

Above: Abel, Walter (in Tyvek) & Ismaralda (lab intern) standing by PREDICT banner positioned at PREDICT table.

Above & Below: Professor Kazwala is at the PREDICT table explaining to the Prime Minister (Kassim Majaliwa) what PREDICT is all about, and to the left of Prof is the Sokoine University of Agriculture Vice Chancellor. 

New publication: "Boma to Banda" and the genesis of a super team...

- David Wolking

Last week the HALI team published a new article in the journal Pastoralism. The article "Boma to banda - A disease sentinel concept for reduction of diarrhoea" is a culmination of one of HALI's smaller studies designed to complement our larger research objectives and is a really excellent example of our project's collaborative approach to research design and implementation. 

Way back in 2007-08, I started working with HALI's UC Davis team on some ideas for a master's research project, ideally something that blended HALI's focus on health sciences with my interests in applied development. We settled on a topic exploring diarrheal diseases in calves and the environmental threat diarrheal calves could pose to children and other pastoralist household members in villages bordering Ruaha National Park. With a tight budget we worked with our partners at Sokoine University in Tanzania to design a project that could piggyback on existing activities working with pastoralists to sample cattle for tuberculosis. 

We designed a targeted survey focused on calf and dam management and exposure of calves to pathogens in their environment (a nice complement to HALI's ongoing longitudinal survey focused on household health, socio-economics, and herd health and management), developed protocols for sampling calves and testing fecal samples for two model pathogens (Cryptosporidium and Giardia) that HALI had already detected in water sources in the Ecosystem. Then we set out to explore whether calf diarrhea was a problem, if it was associated with the model pathogens Crypto and Giardia, and what threat calves might pose to their human caretakers, usually women and children  (in this community the milking herd with calves and dams is kept close to the home because milk is a critical component of their diets).

Asha, HALI survey superstar.

Asha, HALI survey superstar.

Though we didn't have much of a budget, we did manage to hire Asha, a young superstar from Malinzanga village who is now a major asset for HALI on all of our research projects. Asha helped adapt our survey to better address the local context and then after some training ran with it to make it a success. Most importantly, Asha, along with HALI's driver and field technician Erasto (another HALI superstar from one  of the local villages in the Pawaga area), provided a trusted link between the research team and households and together made the field work fun, from hanging out with pastoralists over a cup of chai maziwa (milk tea) to dining on freshly roasted sweet potatoes with Sukuma friends.  Once the study was underway, Asha and Erasto wrapped up the fieldwork independently with the help of a few friends, enumerators recruited from local villages.

Meanwhile, at Sokoine University in Morogoro, we worked with Professor Kazwala, one of HALI's founders, to identify and train an honors bachelors student in veterinary medicine in the detection of our model pathogens Crypto and Giardia. We were lucky to find Enos Kamani, and he and I worked with HALI's post-doc Deana Clifford to learn protocols for Crypto and Giardia detection and quantification. After some training, Enos took that piece on himself and used the work for his honor's thesis. 

Enos in his element at the SUA lab in Morogoro.

Enos in his element at the SUA lab in Morogoro.

With results from Asha, Erasto, and Enos in hand, I worked with the HALI team back at UC Davis (Deana, Woutrina Smith, Terra Kelly, and Jonna Mazet) on analysis and preparation of the final manuscript. For a scrappy team with minimal resources, it turned out pretty well, largely because everyone involved on both the US and Tanzania sides worked their ass off to make it a success. In the end, we managed to demonstrate that diarrheal diseases are in fact a health problem for calves and people in the pastoralist community, that calves do in fact shed pathogenic agents like Crypto and Giardia, and that because of the way calves and other animals like goats and sheep are managed close to the household and interact with children and caretakers there is a lot of opportunity for transmission of these pathogens to people.

To address the applied development interests of the study, we explored the use of calves to act as early warning sentinels for these pathogens and developed an animal sentinel concept for diarrheal diseases that could be a model for pastoralists everywhere. Used in tandem with really basic but effective risk mitigation practices, we proposed a suite of locally appropriate interventions that could be valuable for reducing diarrheal diseases from herd to household (or boma to banda). You can check out the full article at the journal Pastoralism at this link. 

But what you wont see in the published article are al the contributions and energy that went into making that final product or the relationships made over the few years the study was active that have since contributed to multiple successes on other HALI projects. Erasto and Asha are still with the HALI team today, both now employed through Sokoine University and with a wide range of experience on multiple project activities. Enos eventually left SUA for Europe for additional studies and we wish him luck.

Our calf sentinel concept... learn more at Pastoralism.

Our calf sentinel concept... learn more at Pastoralism.

Zikankuba Sijali Studies Diseases that Can Move from Wildlife to People

Zikankuba Sijali grew up in the Mwanza region on Kome Island in Lake Victoria and was interested in animal health from an early age. After helping his mom with the cattle, poultry and spending time at a farm extension center when he was in primary school, Zikankuba decided he would one day become a veterinarian.

At the extension center, he learned about improving village livelihoods with professionals from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the university where he recently earned his veterinary degree. Vet school offered Zikankuba the chance to pursue his long-term interest in wildlife as well as livestock. After courses in wildlife immobilization and treatment and learning more about wildlife and connections with people and domestic animals, he wanted to explore zoonotic disease at the human-livestock-wildlife interface.

Zikankuba’s dream to become a researcher led him to the HALI Project, where he is now coordinating the PREDICT Project and leading field activities for the VISHA project, focusing on diseases that can move from wildlife to people. He has received advanced technical training in disease surveillance, biosafety, safe animal capture and handling, molecular disease diagnostics, zoonotic disease transmission and wildlife conservation. Zikankuba enjoys living and working in Iringa, but he also loves the Lake Zone and coast, where he could always find his favorite meal, fresh fish with ugali. Thankfully, PREDICT is now also working in the Lake Zone!

Into the Magombelema Cave (PHOTOS)

The bat cave. A dark, mysterious abyss and portal to another world beyond the reach of the sun where minerals grow and the floor and ceiling are alive with sound and movement. Caves are fascinating, holding the promise of discovery, and not just for adventurers and spelunkers. 

Recently, disease ecologists have been exploring caves for viral discovery, sampling cave-dwelling bats to learn more about their viro-diversity as well as their potential to act as reservoirs for dangerous diseases like Ebola and Marburg virus. At Python Cave in Uganda where tourists acquired Marburg virus infection, for example, a team from the CDC sampled a large population of fruit bats suspected as hosts. They detected Marburg, and learned a lot about the dynamics of viral shedding among bats in the colony to better understand risks for exposure and infection.

This month HALI's own "Team Popo" (the Bat Team) ventured into the Udzungwa mountains to do some cave explorations of our own as part of the Viral Sharing (VISHA) project. Led by Dr. Popo himself (Zikankuba Sijali), the team geared up and headed off to the Magombelema Cave, a new site where they first worked to characterize the area and learn from people in the communities about their interactions with bats and other wildlife.

Wearing Tyvek suits with hoods, googles, and N-95 respirators to protect themselves from exposure to any potentially dangerous pathogens, Team Popo navigated through Magombelema's chambers and identified some great locations to place mist nets. Bats were safely captured and released, and samples collected and preserved in liquid nitrogen for our lab team at Sokoine University, who will screen the samples for the presence of viral RNA. Many of the bats had already migrated to other areas (seasonal migration is common for fruit bats), so Team Popo learned from local villagers about the best times of year to return the the Magombelema area when bats are most abundant for future capture and sampling work.

HALI's VISHA project is working to understand viral sharing between animals like bats and non-human primates and people in the Udzungwa area along with potential risk factors associated with viral spillover and spread.

Photos by the HALI Team / Introduction by David Wolking. 

Goodluck Paul Investigates Bovine Tuberculosis at the Human-Animal-Environmental Interface

Goodluck Paul is a research scientist with the HALI Project and a 2010 graduate of SUA’s Veterinary Medicine program.

As a student, Goodluck gained research experience by completing a special project, investigating the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in a modern abattoir in his home region of Dodoma. Goodluck joined the HALI Project as a veterinary field coordinator and researcher with the NIH TB Project, and he is currently finishing his masters degree at SUA with TB Project Support. 

The NIH project examines disease ecology and transmission dynamics of bovine tuberculosis at the human-animal-enviroment interface in rural areas. Goodluck is also interested in other zoonoses of public health importance and is currently coordinating One Health field activities with HALI's new Rift Valley Fever and Brucella (R&B) project.

Stuck in the mud on our travels to Chita (PHOTOS)

By Abel Ekiri and the HALI Team 

The HALI Tanzania field team visited Chita, Kilombero last month to collect samples from study clinics enrolling participants for VISHA human surveillance work. The team also assessed clinic challenges, supply needs, and refilled a dry shipper with liquid nitrogen.

But travel from Ifakara to Chita was a major challenge due to poor road conditions. The ongoing rainy season aggravated the road conditions, as you can see in the pictures below. They were literally impassable.

On our way to and from Chita, we had to rely on a tractor (seen in the background of the first picture) to drag our Land Cruiser through the muddy road sections, which delayed our travels considerably. Perhaps HALI should consider buying a tractor for such situations! Here are some selected photos form the visit, which demonstrate how difficult implementation of projects like this one can be at times. 

This is about 2.5 hours into our journey from Ifakara to Chita and the picture shows the first of the 3 main trouble spots that we encountered along this road. This petroleum tanker was obviously stuck and our vehicle (white Land Cruiser not seen here) was right behind it. The tractor (with trailer covered by blue top in-front of tanker) is pulling the tanker out of its misery. And how about us? Photo by HALI Tanzania team’s Emmanuel Mbuba.


This is the IHI-HALI land cruiser deeply glued in the muddy rough road, one of the 3 worst trouble spots along the way from Ifakara to Chita. Our driver Michael (red T-shirt) is inspecting the extent of the trouble we are in. Solomon (white T-shirt and jean pants folded to knees) is obviously not amused at what he is seeing. He tossed his shoes, as they served no purpose in this situation. Photo by HALI Tanzania team’s Emmanuel Mbuba.


Our driver Michael tried to instruct a volunteer to remove some mud beneath the front wheel chassis to detach the vehicle from the thick mud plaster beneath but was unsuccessful. Thanks to the existence of tractors, particularly the one that eventually pulled the petroleum tanker and later our vehicle out of this mud banker, of course after paying Tsh 20,000/ for the service. It was only then we were able to proceed to Chita. Photo by HALI Tanzania team’s Emmanuel Mbuba.


By the time we got to the last of the worst spots on our return trip, it was evening. At the same spot described earlier in the first three photos, another big truck was stuck and blocked the safer portion of the road. Our vehicle is way back behind this truck (not seen in picture). The tractor that saved us earlier in the day was long gone. We were now contemplating spending a night here unless a miracle happened quick. Photo by HALI Tanzania team’s Emmanuel Mbuba.


Chapter 2 of the story continues on the way back from Chita to Ifakara. As darkness came around, about 9 pm at the time, another lucky (or unlucky) victim arrived from Ifakara direction in a little pickup which was no match for the mud basin – so it sank in comfortably (aka got stuck). Fortunately the pickup driver knew of a tractor driver that lived about two hours away from this spot and so he called the driver who agreed to come to rescue him.

Our hopes were now entirely on the same tractor driver if we did not want to spend a night right there. So we waited for another 2.5 hours before the tractor arrived and pulled the little pickup out as well as other vehicles. Eventually our turn came and the Land Cruiser was pulled with no one inside except the driver. Three of the field team members enjoyed a ride on the back of the tractor trailer pulling the cruiser. We were comfortable on top of the rice bags as the tractor danced its way through the deep mud plaster.

We ended up arriving in Ifakara at 2 am, way earlier than anticipated. Again thanks to our hero, the tractor, that spared us spending the whole night right there. Photos by HALI Tanzania team’s Emmanuel Mbuba

Asha Makweta is HALI's Local Knowledge Expert

Asha Makweta is a HALI field research assistant. A long-time resident of one of the HALI Project’s main study areas, Asha is our local knowledge expert.

She has collaborated with a variety of research projects in the area for over half a decade, including a SUA project on human nutrition, projects on human-wildlife conflict, and as a HALI Project field assistant and interpreter.

Recently, Asha completed a certificate in Community Development Studies. She rejoined HALI to work on the LCC CRSP project providing livestock health and human nutrition education to pastoralist communities living near Ruaha National Park.

PREDICT’s Ethiopia Team Learns Bat Sampling in Tanzania

In East Africa, HALI is helping partners from Addis Ababa University, the implementing partner for the PREDICT project in Ethiopia, learn safe capture and sampling of bats as part of a growing network of African scientists working to improve detection and prevention of emerging pandemic threats. The slideshow below gives a great look at the training: 

The PREDICT Ethiopia team met Zikankuba Sijalia, HALI's PREDICT project coordinator, at a recent global meeting and plans were made to bring the Ethiopian team to Tanzania to learn from Dr. Popo himself (the bat doctor, Zika's superhero name), who is quickly becoming one of the premier bat experts in the East Africa region. 

HALI's project scientist Chris Kilonzo took some amazing photos of the first day of training, conducted in Morogoro, Tanzania at a fruit bat roosting site in trees near the campus of Sokoine University, one of the sites the team is surveying as part of HALI's Viral Sharing project.

The team will continue to work with their new Ethiopian friends on bat and non-human primate sampling in the Udzungwa Mountains over the next few weeks. According to the HALI team, the Ethiopian scientists are a quick study and after only a few days in Tanzania are already mastering the skills and techniques for bat surveillance. Back home in Ethiopia, the Addis Ababa team will use these newly acquired skills in surveillance activities targeting bats as potential hosts for MERS Coronavirus and other potentially zoonotic viruses. 

Look out for more news on Dr. Popo and the HALI team soon as field activities ramp up!

Photos by Chris Kilonzo. Story by David Wolking. 

Amani Zacharia Keeps the Team on the Move

Amani Zacharia, originally from Moshi, is a driver and field researcher with the HALI Project.

Amani has a long employment history as a driver, including working with NOREMCO Construction in Dar es Salaam, DMTPL-Morogoro—an agricultural firm—as a quality auditor and driver, and as a driver for Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro.

In 2009, Amani moved to Iringa to join the HALI field team. Though assigned to the PREDICT project on emerging viral threats, Amani helps with all HALI activities supporting teams with data collection from field sites throughout Tanzania.

We're doing short posts every month about members of the HALI team. This is part of that series. 

Ruaha Buffalo Project Collars Two New Buffaloes & Tests 15 for Diseases

In September 2015, the HALI team conducted captures of 15 adult buffaloes in Ruaha National Park for disease testing, and placed an additional two collars on buffaloes from two herds. The effort was a part of the Ruaha National Park/HALI collaborative project that is investigating health, population status and ecology of African buffaloes in the park (see past blog posts from Jan 6 2015, March 11 2015, and May 21 2015).

Buffaloes were anesthetized by using a carbon dioxide powered dart rifle to deliver a syringe-like dart containing a powerful anesthetic.  Once each buffalo was anesthetized, the team approached the animals, placed a blindfold to calm the animal and provided water if needed to cool the animal, then quickly took blood, hair and fecal samples, and performed a health exam. At the end of the exam, each buffalo was given a rapid acting drug that reverses the anesthesia and allows the animals to wake up in a matter of minutes.  All animals recovered and no injuries to humans or buffaloes occurred.

The biological samples collected by the team will be tested at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania for various diseases.

In addition to the capture work, the Ruaha National Park and the HALI team conducted the fourth annual demographic survey of buffalo herds in the park. The survey took 4 days. Demographic data helps the research team understand how herd composition (the ratio of males, females, adults and young) and reproduction varies between years.

Below are a few photographs from the adventures…


HALI team gets together in Iringa, Tanzania

The HALI team got together on September 15th 2015 for a working meeting in Iringa, Tanzania. The meeting brought together HALI affiliated researchers from University of California, Davis, Sokoine University of Agriculture and Ifakara Health Institute.

The team holds regular weekly meetings through Skype but nothing beats getting together in person!

 

All smiles as the team poses for a group photo outside the HALI Iringa office

All smiles as the team poses for a group photo outside the HALI Iringa office

The HALI team keenly listens to project presentations before breaking into panels for further group discussions

The HALI team keenly listens to project presentations before breaking into panels for further group discussions

Panelists discuss and work through project implementation scenarios

Panelists discuss and work through project implementation scenarios

Panelists discussing project implementation ideas

Panelists discussing project implementation ideas

Joseph Malakalinga, laboratory technologist from Sokoine University of Agriculture, demonstrates the Rose Bengal test which is used to screen serum samples for Brucella. This bacteria causes Brucellosis in both humans and animals.

Joseph Malakalinga, laboratory technologist from Sokoine University of Agriculture, demonstrates the Rose Bengal test which is used to screen serum samples for Brucella. This bacteria causes Brucellosis in both humans and animals.

The Rose Bengal test: Serum samples are gently mixed with the pink-colored Rose Bengal reagent for about 4 minutes. The presence of agglutination or clumping similar to that in the top right well indicates a positive result.

The Rose Bengal test: Serum samples are gently mixed with the pink-colored Rose Bengal reagent for about 4 minutes. The presence of agglutination or clumping similar to that in the top right well indicates a positive result.

HALI investigates circling disease: An emerging small ruminant disease threatening animal health and livelihoods.

A pastoralist carries a lamb as she herds her flock of sheep and goats. Many pastoralist households depend entirely upon livestock for their livelihoods. (Photo by Mwokozi Mwanzalila)

A pastoralist carries a lamb as she herds her flock of sheep and goats. Many pastoralist households depend entirely upon livestock for their livelihoods. (Photo by Mwokozi Mwanzalila)

Small ruminants including sheep and goats play important roles as sources of income and food in many households in developing countries. In rural Tanzanian villages bordering Ruaha National Park, the HALI team is investigating the occurrence of an emerging disease called kizunguzungu (in Swahili) or circling disease. Pastoralists have given the disease this name because infected animals show the unusual behavior of repeatedly turning in circles. The consequences of circling disease are very serious as animals typically stop eating and may die. The disease is negatively impacting pastoralist communities through lost income and nutrition.

A goat with sign of circling disease. Affected animals move in circles and their health can deteriorate leading to death (Photo by Alphonce Msigwa)

A goat with sign of circling disease. Affected animals move in circles and their health can deteriorate leading to death (Photo by Alphonce Msigwa)

With support from the Feed the Future Livestock and Climate Change Innovation Lab, the HALI team is collecting samples from affected and healthy sheep and goats to determine the cause of the condition and risk factors for animals becoming infected. The circling disease project is strengthening collaborations between HALI team, pastoralist communities, Tanzania Veterinary Laboratory Agency (TVLA), Southern Highlands Veterinary Investigation Center and village livestock extension officers. Stay tuned for more updates…

HALI researcher Alphonce Msigwa prepares to collect a blood sample from sheep. Looking on is a Laboratory technician from TVLA Mr. Abnery Mrema.  Blood and brain tissues are sent to Sokoine University of Agriculture for laboratory analysis. (Photo by Mwokozi Mwanzalila)

HALI researcher Alphonce Msigwa prepares to collect a blood sample from sheep. Looking on is a Laboratory technician from TVLA Mr. Abnery Mrema.  Blood and brain tissues are sent to Sokoine University of Agriculture for laboratory analysis. (Photo by Mwokozi Mwanzalila)

Meet Chris Kilonzo, HALI's New Blogger & Post-doc

Christopher Kilonzo is a veterinarian and epidemiologist who was born and raised in Kenya. He is now a postdoc working on the HALI project in Tanzania who will be sharing photos and stories on this blog. We’re excited to have him on board and we look forward to seeing what he shares!

As an introduction, we asked him a few questions about his new position with HALI and what excites him most. But first, a bit more about his background:

Chris attended primary and high school in Nairobi before joining the University of Nairobi to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. His interest in public health and zoonoses (diseases transmissible from animals to humans) led him to join UC Davis for a graduate degree in Preventive veterinary medicine.

Chris graduated with the MPVM (Masters in Preventive Veterinary Medicine) in 2010, where his research focused on the epidemiology of E. coli O157:H7 in sheep populations in California. Shortly thereafter, he worked on several food safety research projects as a junior research specialist with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS). Chris joined the Graduate Group in Epidemiology in 2011 and recently completed his PhD in Epidemiology focusing on zoonotic foodborne pathogens in wild rodents in California agricultural farms. Chris is married to Victoria, who is also a veterinarian.

1. What life experience had the biggest impact on your decision to do the work you’ll be doing with HALI? 

Witnessing the disease burden and devastation associated with zoonoses, particularly in African countries such as Kenya where I grew up. It has by far had the largest influence on my career path and decision to work with HALI. I am excited about joining the team and I believe a One Health approach is fundamental to zoonotic disease research, particularly in African societies where domestic and wild animals are often found in close proximity to humans.

2. What excites you most about moving to Tanzania to work with HALI? 

I am excited about the opportunity to meet and interact with the HALI team and the new One Health research projects we plan on undertaking. I am also excited about exploring the country and experiencing new cultures and cuisines.

3. Tell us a story about your work as a field veterinarian.

Working as a field veterinarian in Kenya requires a lot of tenacity and patience. In veterinary school, we had to do a lot of hands-on clinical training particularly dealing with livestock and companion animals. After vet school I thought I had gathered enough experience to bravely go out into the world and practice. The situation out in the field is typically very different as I came to realize. Many rural small-scale farmers are illiterate, poor and struggle to afford veterinary care for their animals. It is a challenge explaining to them the importance and benefits of a certain procedure or therapy and often times a veterinarian has to make due with the little that a farmer can afford for veterinary services. My first case fresh out of veterinary school was a cow with a retained afterbirth or placenta. This condition occurs when the placental tissues fail to detach from the uterine wall. If the afterbirth isn’t expelled soon after birth, uterine infection and illness could occur. The cow in this case had a history of a difficult calving and was therefore unable to naturally expel the afterbirth.

Because several days had passed since the calving, the afterbirth had begun to decompose and the cow was severely infected as evidenced by fever. I had to manually remove the afterbirth and brave through the smell, knowing well that the cow’s life hung in the balance. Fortunately, after a dose of antibiotics, the cow later fully recovered and went about its normal routine of chewing curd and suckling its newborn calf. Unfortunately for me, I had to endure the foul smell, which lingered all the way home, but such is the life of a veterinarian.

4. You were born in Nairobi and frequently visited and spent time in rural Kenya. What was it like, and have things changed for rural families in Kenya since you were a child?

I grew up in Nairobi, which is an urban city, and spent many holidays and weekends in rural Kenya visiting my grandparents and extended family. As a child we looked forward to these visits, as we were free to explore the terrain and play with our cousins and friends sometimes until very late in the day, something we couldn’t do in Nairobi due to insecurity.

Things have definitely changed for rural families over the years. There has been a lot of rural-to-urban migration and a lot of the people I used to interact with have moved to urban areas in search of employment. There have been improvements in infrastructure and road networks are better, making movement and transportation much easier.

Electric power has been directed to the various homesteads through government-backed rural electrification programs facilitating the use of electrical appliances and equipment. With improved infrastructure and amenities, many people in rural areas have been able to dig boreholes and pump water directly into storage tanks eliminating the need to walk long distances to laboriously fetch water from rivers and lakes. I have also seen an increase in zero grazing systems of animal production where livestock are confined and fed rather than let out to graze. Such systems have helped to maximize land use and have contributed to a reduction in the spread of livestock diseases.

There has also been an increase in use of cellphones as cellphone coverage has rapidly spread throughout the country. Today I can easily talk to my grandmother in village no matter where I am in the world, something that was impossible growing up. Improved telecommunication has also had positive effects for the animal industry in Kenya as farmers can now easily call their veterinarian in case they need urgent veterinary assistance for their animals.

Ruth Maganga introducing Chris and the team to the viral molecular diagnostics lab.

Ruth Maganga introducing Chris and the team to the viral molecular diagnostics lab.

5. You are a veterinarian and have just finished your PhD work, which represents a long road of training and research experiences. What life skills or stories do you think of as keys to your success?

I believe that developing a passion for veterinary medicine and research, setting goals for success early in my career and working hard to see them to fruition have all been important keys to my success. Additionally, seeking and identifying mentors who have guided me through my training and research has played a big role in my achievements.

6. What is your perspective on the roles of veterinarians in society today, since we can now do much more than what many people thought of as a career in pet medicine or livestock health?

Veterinarians have very important roles to play in society and are not just limited to clinical practice as many people think. Over the years, veterinarians have made significant contributions to multiple disciplines including public health, food safety and security, animal welfare, environmental protection and conservation, policy development and biomedical research.

For example, majority of emerging infectious diseases today are zoonotic and veterinarians together with physicians and other health professionals are playing critical roles to improve public health by actively preventing disease outbreaks and educating the public on preventative measures. As a result, One Health multidisciplinary approaches to tackling diseases have gained popularity as people acknowledge the mutual benefits of such efforts

Veterinarians are progressively getting involved in food security issues as the demand for safe, fresh food products increases as a result of a concomitant increase in human populations. Similarly, veterinarians are playing important roles in enhancing food safety, as we recognize the potential threats of agro-terrorism and inadvertent cross-border introduction of animal pathogens.

Veterinarians are also actively involved in educating the public about animal welfare issues and the societal benefits of good animal husbandry practices. Veterinarians are also making  key contributions to biomedical research and the development of new therapies and drugs.

Questions by Justin Cox, Woutrina Smith, and David Wolking