Since 2017, researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) working through the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) have partnered with iCow – a mobile phone agricultural platform – to connect farmers with information on 15 key zoonoses. As of November 2019, approximately 178,000 SMS messages on zoonotic diseases had been sent to 12,643 farmers in East Africa.
Strengthening and integrating zoonotic disease surveillance systems is one of the main areas of A4NH’s work on improving human health. The iCow app provides a complete portfolio of disease information for smallholder farmers, with a special focus on livestock farmers. iCow is designed to work on phones with very basic features and is available in different languages. It is a comprehensive solution designed not only to support farmers with livestock and crop production but also to connect them to the vital players in their agricultural ecosystem.
The zoonotic disease module includes key messages for anthrax, brucellosis and Rift Valley fever; rabies and trypanosomiasis; cysticercosis and leptospirosis; avian influenza; echinococcosis; foot and mouth disease (not a zoonosis); and Q fever. Farmers access the zoonotic disease content through the library by dialing a short code, following the simple menus, or by sending keywords by SMS to the iCow platform, an option known as autoresponder.
Between 2017 and 2019, approximately 6,065 farmers accessed disease information from the library and 6,578 accessed information from the autoresponder. The five most researched diseases during a two-and-a-half-year period in this timeframe were anthrax, brucellosis, Rift Valley fever, foot and mouth disease and leptospirosis.
Integrated surveillance activities for zoonoses involve the systematic collection, analysis and evaluation of health-related data from animal and human populations. These data, in turn, can be used to enhance disease preparedness, improve resource allocation, and guide disease intervention strategies. Surveillance system data are then translated into farmer-directed feedback, which has been disseminated through farmer face-to-face gatherings and to policy partners such as the Kenyan Government’s Zoonotic Disease Unit.
This initiative counts on a partnership among the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), iCow, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), and the University of Liverpool.