Why combination vaccines are better for small-scale livestock producers

Written by Stephen Wilson, Director, Research & Development (VITAL projects) and Kellen Asena, Senior Marketing Manager, GALVmed. Originally published by Farming First.

Livestock is a crucial source of income for small-scale livestock producers. Globally, it is estimated that around 78 per cent of the world’s poorest communities rely on agricultural work to support their livelihoods and households. However, livestock diseases represent $358.4 billion in lost production per year.

Access to veterinary care is a critical piece of the puzzle, with higher vaccination rates associated with higher productivity. However, expensive vaccines often do not reach those who rely on healthy animals the most for their livelihoods, income and food security: small-scale livestock producers.

Small-scale livestock producers often live in remote areas and face many constraints around access to veterinary care, including the lack of financial means to pay for the necessary medicines, and sometimes even lack of knowledge on some of the diseases that their livestock may suffer from. Often, suitable vaccines are distributed in disproportionate pack sizes or are simply unavailable. However, combination vaccines, also known as multi-valent vaccines can address these access challenges and more, offering the best value for resource-poor livestock keepers.

Alternatives for smallholder farmers

The prevalence of diseases such as Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP) and Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) in livestock is rife across the African continent, causing significant economic losses for farmers and harm to animal health and welfare. Yet, major gaps exist in the portfolio of products required by small-scale producers to effectively control pressing livestock diseases. Combination and concurrent vaccines, meaning those which target more than one disease in a single dose or administration, offer effective and affordable value to small-scale producers with an outstanding return on investment and a multitude of benefits.

For instance, combination vaccines are more cost-effective than single-use vaccinations, which tend to be more expensive. The Sheep Goat Pox/PPR combination vaccine, for example, is 40 per cent cheaper than the cost of the two vaccines delivered separately. 

Multi-valent vaccines also provide maximum coverage against multiple diseases, rather than simply one livestock disease. They require just a single dose to be administered and therefore are less burdensome on the farmer, the animal, and the veterinarians. There have also been improvements around pack sizes, with 10, 50 and 100 doses available.

Developing multi-valent vaccines

Together with partners, GALVmed is funding the development of several multi-valent vaccines against livestock diseases that are most endemic across Africa and South Asia and currently have the most negative impacts on food security for smallholder farmers. Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP), for example, can result in economic losses of over $507 million per year in endemic areas, while PPR is highly contagious and affects almost 70 countries across the African continent. SGP affects goats and sheep and can lead to economic losses amounting to $48 million per year across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Other diseases that combination vaccines are targeting include Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP), Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), Newcastle Disease (ND), and Infectious Bursal Disease (Gumboro) (IBD).

For example, the CCPP/PPR/SGP combination vaccine for small ruminant diseases in affected regions ensures maximum disease coverage using a single vaccine and through distribution networks operating effective cold chains. This combination vaccine is significantly cheaper than monovalent vaccines. The addition of the RVF dosage to the CBPP+LSD/Rift Valley Fever vaccine – known as a concurrent vaccine – is of particular importance to smallholder farmers as it offers enhanced protection against RVF outbreaks when administered at the same time.

Other combination vaccines include the bi-valent PPR/SGP vaccine – of which GALVmed, together with a commercial partner, has sold over 27 million doses to date – as well as multi-valent vaccines against ND and Infectious bronchitis.

Looking ahead

Encouraging governments across the Global South to open up the market for private sector development could ensure small-scale farmers are able to purchase vaccines more easily and efficiently, which is particularly important in the case of a disease outbreak when a rapid response time could make or break disease control efforts.

It is estimated that 800 million people in Africa rely on healthy livestock for their livelihoods. One of the fastest-growing agricultural subsectors in developing countries, livestock accounts for around 30 per cent of agricultural GDP. However, smallholder farmers in low-income, rural areas often lack access to vaccinations and veterinary care resulting from logistical and supply chain difficulties and costs. Combination vaccines could be the answer, offering a viable and cost-effective alternative for small-scale livestock farmers all around the world.

Evaluating the effects of Newcastle Disease vaccination on poultry production and livelihoods

Backyard chickens are a significant source of income and nourishment in developing countries, but outbreaks of poultry diseases like Newcastle Disease (ND) severely affect productivity, flock mortality, and consequently, farmer livelihoods.

GALVmed has made important progress in combating ND with the successful development of two thermotolerant vaccines suitable for the rural environment. Vaccination is a cost-effective means to controlling ND. However, to fully grasp the benefits of vaccination interventions and establish evidence-based approaches for developing future programmes and planning, we need to measure vaccination impacts comprehensively. In order to understand and quantify the causal effects of ND vaccination on poultry production and livelihoods, since 2020, GALVmed has been working with Tufts University and Oxford Policy Management (OPM) to design and implement a Newcastle Disease Vaccine (NDV) intervention paired with a rigorous evaluation in rural areas of Tanzania.

The study encompasses two main activities. Firstly, a Newcastle Disease vaccination intervention in selected small-scale farming areas of Tanzania, specifically in the districts of Chemba and Mbozi. To execute this intervention plan, Community Vaccinators are tasked to visit each registered small-scale producer (SSP) household at their doorstep to:

  1. Vaccinate chickens with the I-2 Newcastle Disease vaccine, which is administered by the eye-drop method.
  2. Deliver specific training and knowledge content on the disease, vaccination, and improved poultry-rearing practices.

The second activity involves an experimental study to quantify the causal effects of the Newcastle Disease vaccination intervention. To assess these effects, the impact study was structured as a randomised controlled trial (RCT) where the study sample of intervention villages was randomly divided into two groups for comparison: a treatment group that received the ND vaccination intervention package (vaccination and training), and a control group that did not. The control group will receive one round of the intervention after the study’s endline survey.

Both the vaccination intervention and the impact study are currently underway.  OPM has completed all 6 vaccination rounds in the study’s treatment villages with one pending vaccination round to control villages. The households that were selected for the impact study have been interviewed at the project’s outset, followed by a midline assessment, and will again be interviewed at the end of the intervention. The midline survey revealed preliminary positive outcomes with reduced ND outbreaks and chicken mortality due to NDV delivery.

Underlying this intervention is a key assumption that offering NDV at an affordable price to poultry-keeping households in treatment villages, together with the promotion of improved poultry-rearing practices, will yield noteworthy benefits with respect to poultry productivity, income from poultry, household welfare, food consumption, and possibly decisions on income-generating activities.

The findings derived from this study will allow us to make informed decisions regarding ND vaccination and further enhance the effectiveness of our efforts in protecting poultry health and livelihoods.

Further details and final findings will be made available at the end of the intervention in 2024.

‘One Health’: Investing in Animal Health to get the world back on track

Written by Karelle De Luca, Head of Research & Development. Originally published by Fair Planet.

There are just seven years to go until 2030. That means there are just seven years left to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its 169 targets. Yet, the world was starkly reminded in July by top United Nations officials ahead of the SDG Summit that it is “tremendously off track” to reach these Goals.

In fact, a mere 15 per cent of the SDGs are on track, while many are in reverse. 

Against the backdrop of a myriad of complex, interconnected global challenges such as climate change and global economic insecurity, reaching all 169 targets by 2030 is looking increasingly less probable – unless action and investment are accelerated.

Indeed, world leaders’ recent political declaration to spur commitment to rescue the SDGs is a welcome step in the right direction, as they call for more investment in climate action, clean energy, education, health and much more. However, there is one important sector that also needs investment and is often overlooked in the role it can play to ensure the world gets back on track to our shared sustainability goals: the animal health sector. 

The ‘One Health’ approach

Investing in animal health – and in particular livestock – has a multitude of benefits for animals, people and the environment. That’s ‘One Health’ – the notion that human, animal, and plant health are interdependent.

Livestock is a crucial source of income for smallholder farmers, with about 78 per cent of the world’s poorest relying on agricultural work to support their livelihoods and households. However, each year, tens of millions of livestock die due to diseases.

Livestock diseases represent around USD 358 billion in lost production each year – production that could otherwise support global food security and more resilient livelihoods for small-scale farmers, particularly at a time when the African continent faces compounded challenges from climate change and supply chain shocks. 

However, investment in animal health and welfare can help. Thanks to a concerted vaccination effort over a decade ago, for

example, which saw the development of an inexpensive vaccine, costing from $3 to $16 per hundred doses, rinderpest in livestock was completely eradicated. Its eradication allows the continent to avoid a loss of $920 million a year, with household income in Ethiopia estimated to have risen by $40 million.

Improving animal health through investment boosts productivity and supports more resilient livelihoods, all of which are considered indicators of the Global Goals.

Beyond boosting livelihoods, enhancing animal health not only keeps livestock themselves healthy but also protects humans by reducing the risk of diseases spreading between the two. Up to 75 per cent of new or emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic in origin – that is, transmitted from wild animals – the importance of better animal health cannot be understated, as livestock often act as the bridge between people and zoonoses from wild animals.

Africa alone has witnessed a 63 per cent increase in the number of zoonotic disease outbreaks in the last decade. 

Increased investment is needed to make the full suite of livestock health tools available to farmers, including vaccines and other measures, which in turn helps to lower the usage of antibiotics on farms. This also helps to minimise the risk of developing new resistant strains of bacteria, reducing the effectiveness of vital antimicrobial treatments in both human and veterinary medicine.

More effective vaccines and delivery mechanisms are particularly critical for small-scale farmers in the Global South. For instance, the development of multi-valent vaccines offer pragmatic and cost-effective disease control tools for smallholder farmers. To date, GALVmed-supported initiatives have sold an estimated over one billion livestock vaccines, therapeutics and other animal health products to smallholders in 15 countries across Africa and South Asia.

Healthier animals and improved livestock management practices can also help to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint – known as the third pillar of the One Health approach – bringing us one step closer to SDG 13 (Climate Action). Animals suffering from illness have a higher carbon footprint, while healthier animals are more productive and produce less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

For example, a reduction of disease levels in livestock of roughly 10 percentage points is associated with an 800 million tonne decrease in GHG emissions. This adds up to nearly as much as Nigeria and South Africa’s total emissions, combined. 

While better livestock health can ensure a higher quality of life for animals, it is also an investment with far-reaching returns: from improved food security, economic growth, better human health and a healthier planet. 

As such, there is therefore a greater need to ensure that farmers are better equipped with the tools needed to improve animal health, particularly in those regions where they have proven inaccessible or expensive. Investing in livestock health through a One Health approach is a key solution to ensuring the world’s sustainability agenda gets back on track.

Image credit: @GALVmed/Alternatives.