Neglected zoonotic diseases (NZDs) place a huge burden on society, especially in areas of high poverty, but do not receive the same kind of attention from health organisations as diseases such as malaria and AIDS. The ADVANZ project is aiming to improve knowledge and understanding of how NZDs are spread by providing advocacy materials for governments, professionals and civilians alike.
Zoonoses are diseases that can be passed between vertebrate animals and humans. Some of these diseases, such as avian influenza, have been dealt with in an effective manner across the world. However, a number of endemic zoonoses, highly prevalent in poor and marginalised populations with limited access to health services, still cause severe morbidity and mortality in both humans and animals. These diseases are less well known and of low interest to policy makers and funding bodies.
With only 0.06 per cent of global assistance for health devoted to controlling neglected zoonotic diseases (NZDs), it is a vastly underfunded cause in proportion to the burden it places upon the population. The EU-funded ADVANZ consortium was consequently set up in 2012 with the aim of persuading decision makers and empowering stakeholders at local, regional and international levels towards a coordinated fight against NZDs. The focus of the consortium is mainly in Africa, where the burden from these diseases is the heaviest.
A chronic lack of information on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of NZDs has led to their continued proliferation. For those working closely with livestock and the surrounding communities, levels of health are connected with the health of the animals and the environment. During case studies done in collaboration with affected communities, Professor Samson Mukaratirwa and his team found that little knowledge or concern existed about these facts. "We found it amazing that nobody had emphasised to these people the damage that the most prevalent zoonotic diseases were causing them," he says.
Providing locally adapted information has been a major activity of the project, helping to generate awareness and promoting the adoption of good practices. A major output of ADVANZ has been the creation of a website which provides a comprehensive review of available advocacy materials and information resources for decision makers and other interested parties. Its focus is on the eight NZDs identified by the WHO: anthrax, brucellosis, cysticercosis, echinococcosis, leishmaniasis, rabies, trypanosomiasis and tuberculosis.
Another tool for disseminating the advocacy materials created by the consortium is the Pan-African One Health Platformed with NZDs. The One Health concept is based on the fact that human health, animal health, and ecosystem health are inextricably linked. By keeping this in mind it is thought that health of all species can be improved by accelerating biomedical research discoveries, enhancing public health efficacy, expanding the scientific knowledge base, and improving medical education and clinical care.
"We want to advocate that the One Health approach can be effective in controlling and preventing NZDs," explains Mukaratirwa. "We have materials targeted at different stakeholders and ready to be disseminated, and the Pan-African platform will make sure that these materials reach them. Improving awareness and knowledge of NZDs through this approach has the potential to bring about a coordinated and informed drive against these diseases that could eventually wipe them out for good."