- 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).
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.
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.