So what is ICONZ?
ICONZ stands for “Integrated Control of Neglected Zoonoses” – diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. It is a unique project involving 21 very diverse partners from Africa and Europe, including research institutes, diagnostic laboratories and universities.
Who is involved?
Professionals of different disciplines – vets, medical doctors, basic scientists, epidemiologists and social scientists (to name but a few) – are working together to bring neglected diseases such as rabies, brucellosis and cysticercosis under control.
But I didn’t think we needed to worry about diseases like brucellosis nowadays?
These debilitating, deadly diseases have been all but eradicated in wealthy countries, but in Africa, Asia and Latin America they are still major causes of ill-health and death. For the first time, their control in low-income countries is a real possibility through ICONZ.
Aren’t the priorities for Africa to control the major diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB?
Vast amounts of money have already been invested in control of ‘the big three’, but they have proved to be very difficult to control. Collectively the so-called neglected diseases may have almost as much impact as one of the big three, but differ in that there are solutions that could be applied right now in affected communities. (read more about this here)
So how is ICONZ different?
What’s unique about ICONZ is its truly interdisciplinary nature. It’s divided into 12 “work packages” and each one is a piece in the jigsaw. Some concern pooling research and identifying gaps. Others are about improving disease control tools or assessing the economic impact, in order to identify the best means of fighting these diseases and to convince governments and NGOs that to do so makes sense financially. Although conducted on a small scale, the test interventions under ICONZ will also bring relief to some affected communities.
So we’ll know a lot about these diseases, but what will actually be done about them?
Four of the work packages involve developing and testing cost effective strategies for intervention, whether for control or prevention. The zoonoses to be tackled have been divided into four clusters – bacterial, dog/small ruminant-associated, pig-associated and vector-borne (transmitted by other creatures such as flies or ticks).
How can you be sure you’re doing this in a way that will work in Africa?
The African partners in ICONZ are well placed to ensure that intervention is culturally appropriate; for instance, one work package is devoted to developing ways of educating communities. This is especially important where a change in behaviour is necessary to bring a disease under control.
You’re in different countries and come from different disciplines, how will you all work together?
Each partner has their own expertise, be that in societal attitudes to health, technology transfer, training or veterinary science. However, the work packages are structured to bring together different people to work on a key element of the project. The website and magazine are also there to create a sense of common purpose. Most importantly, the ‘I’ in ICONZ stands for ‘integrated’ – common sense, joined up thinking.
It’s all very well but what if the governments and aid organisations don’t listen?
ICONZ also has a team communicating with governments and donor bodies so that the strategies developed by ICONZ can become reality. We are confident we’ll be able to convince stakeholders that the strategies are effective and cheap ways to tackle these diseases and that, as a result, they will be adopted.
Why are you looking at animals as well as humans? Surely humans come first?
By addressing zoonotic diseases in both humans and animals, ICONZ can deliver a double benefit as increased animal health not only means a reduced risk of infection for humans, but also makes it easier for them to make a living. Healthy livestock that are able to work and produce meat, milk, wool, hides and manure, can be what stands between a community and destitution, or worse, starvation. It’s often much cheaper to treat a disease in animals than to wait until humans have been infected too.
And what’s the most exciting thing about ICONZ?
It’s within our power as a global community, to intervene to help to improve the livelihoods and quality of life of millions of people.