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Tackling Neglected Zoonoses

Neglected zoonoses are mainly associated with people living in close proximity to domestic or wild animals. They are usually endemic and found throughout the developing world where the conditions for their maintenance and spread exist. Unlike emerging zoonoses, which attract considerable international attention, the endemic zoonoses are often neglected resulting in considerable health problems. These endemic and occasionally epidemic zoonoses continually affect poor livestock keepers in marginalized communities. Neglected zoonoses, such as anthrax, rabies, brucellosis, bovine TB, zoonotic trypanosomiasis, echinococcosis, cysticercosis and leishmaniasis, are major causes of ill-health in the poorest communities in developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Because they also affect livestock, causing lowered productivity or death, they not only attack people’s health, but also their livelihoods. The situation is further complicated in that both production and companion animals of significant societal value may act as reservoirs from which these diseases are transmitted to man.

These diseases are the focus of the ICONZ project. The overall concept is based on the need to develop and promote integrated controls for neglected zoonoses in developing countries. Integrated control covers both concerted efforts against several neglected zoonoses (and possibly non-zoonotic infections) in affected communities, and an approach targeted at both transmission of infection and animal reservoirs. In the context of the neglected zoonoses agenda, combining integrated, inter-programmatic, and inter-sectoral approaches to reach marginalized populations or geographic areas, based on stratification of risks, should provide significant added value (Holveck, et al., 2007). The result of more effective control of neglected zoonoses in animals based on scientific innovation and public engagement would be improved human health and animal production.

This concept is supported by a number of recent reports from international organizations. The report of the joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and DFID UK Animal Health Programme meeting held in Geneva in September 2005 focused on endemic zoonoses. WHO has drawn attention to the relationship between poverty and the emergence or re-emergence of zoonotic diseases, which are largely neglected. The European Technology Platform for Global Animal Health (ETPGAH) also recognised the importance of neglected zoonoses and identified the need to facilitate and accelerate the development and distribution of effective tools for controlling animal diseases of major importance to both Europe and the rest of the world.

The poor in least developed countries bear a disproportionately high burden of disease through reasons of access to and affordability of healthcare, and vulnerability. The burden of zoonoses falls especially heavily on poor people because (i) they are at greater risk of contracting these diseases because of the strong association between poverty and living closely with the animal reservoirs of disease, (ii) they are less likely to receive effective treatment, mainly because of the difficulties in diagnosis, and (iii) they suffer from the dual burden of disease both in humans and the animals on which they depend for their livelihoods.