UK commits £20.5m to combat worldwide animal diseases that could spread to humans

11 November 2014

A £20·5m programme of research and training to tackle diseases that could pass from animals to humans has been funded by six UK partners, including NERC.

The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl) partner with four UK research councils to fund the Zoonoses & Emerging Livestock Systems (ZELS) programme.

Over the next five years the Zoonoses & Emerging Livestock Systems (ZELS) programme will fund 11 projects in developing countries in Africa, south Asia and south-east Asia, bringing together expertise from the human and animal health sectors. In addition, £1·5m of funding will give 15 students from the UK and developing countries doctoral training in ZELS-related research.

Zoonoses are diseases capable of passing from animals to humans and are estimated to have cost more than $20bn in direct costs globally between 2000-2010, with a further $200bn in indirect costs. As well as threatening human and animal health, zoonoses affect livestock production, causing economic and social harm to communities in developed and developing countries.

The programme is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic & Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC), and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

By bringing together world-class scientists from various disciplines and from around the globe, the programme aims to improve the health and well-being of animals, humans and the environment and, ultimately, enhance the lives of millions of people.

Baroness Northover, parliamentary under-secretary of state for international development, said:

"Smallholder farmers in the developing world who depend on their livestock to earn a living are hit twice by these diseases. Not only do they lose their income when animals become infected, they and their families are then at risk of becoming sick themselves.

This new funding is an important step towards controlling the spread and reducing the impact of some of the most prevalent of these diseases. It will protect the livelihoods and the health of millions of families in the developing world and boost economic growth in eleven of the world's poorest countries."

The funded ZELS projects are:

  • Looking at factors affecting transmission of zoonotic pathogens from livestock to people. Professor Sarah Cleaveland, University of Glasgow.
  • Zoonoses in Livestock in Kenya (ZooLINK). Professor Eric Fèvre, University of Liverpool.
  • Establishing a strategy to control brucellosis in dairy herds of West and Central Africa. Professor Javier Guitian, Royal Veterinary College.
  • Developing the evidence base to control brucellosis in sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Daniel Haydon, University of Glasgow.
  • Combating bird flu by developing new diagnostic tools and vaccines. Dr Munir Iqbal, The Pirbright Institute.
  • An integrated approach for surveillance and control of zoonoses in emerging livestock systems. Professor Duncan Maskell, University of Cambridge.
  • Controlling and monitoring emerging zoonoses in the poultry farming and trading system in Bangladesh. Professor Dirk Pfeiffer, Royal Veterinary College.
  • Tackling Human African Trypanosomiasis on the edge of wilderness areas. Professor Stephen Torr, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
  • Epidemiology and evolution of zoonotic schistosomiasis in a changing world. Professor Joanne Webster, Royal Veterinary College London.
  • Controlling Bovine Tuberculosis in Ethiopia. Professor James Wood, University of Cambridge.
  • Food safety hazards in emerging livestock meat pathways (HAZEL). Professor Ruth Zadoks, University of Glasgow.

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1. At least 61% of all human pathogens are zoonotic, and have represented 75% of all emerging pathogens during the past decade (ref: World Health Organisation).

2. The four research councils in the ZELS programme receive funding from the government's science budget. The science budget is administered through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).