Translational Research for Transformational Change: One on One with GALVmed’s New R&D Executive Director

Beginning of October 2021, GALVmed appointed Dr Johnson Ouma as its new Executive Director in charge of Research & Development. Johnson is a seasoned researcher and has provided leadership in establishing and managing strategic product and technology development partnerships which have led to the development of breakthrough products for animal health.

Johnson will play a leading role in shaping and delivering GALVmed’s Research & Development strategy centred on sustainable technologies addressing animal health challenges facing small-scale livestock producers. We sat down with him to know more about his life, career, motivations and his plans for his new role.  

How would you describe yourself?

I am a passionate people person. I thoroughly enjoy what I do, and I love meeting and getting to know new people and finding common ground with them. I like it when people feel comfortable around me. These traits have served me well at the workplace and contributed to my success as a leader.

What are you most excited about in your new role?

I am thrilled to know that this role offers a unique platform through which, together with my R&D team, and working in collaboration with other departments within GALVmed as well as with GALVmed’s esteemed partners, we would be able to develop and roll out products and solutions that would significantly contribute to the improvement of livelihoods of hundreds of millions of smallholder livestock producers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

What experience would you say prepared you for this role?

Over the last 10 years, I have served as the Director of Africa Technical Research Centre (ATRC), a multicultural R&D Centre, where I established and managed product development partnerships and built and inspired a strong R&D team, leading to the successful development and commercialization of a portfolio of products for agriculture (livestock and crop protection) and public health.  Before joining ATRC, I worked as a senior scientist with the then Kenya Trypanosomiasis Research Institute (KETRI) and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI, predecessor to the current Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization – KALRO) for nearly 17 years. At KARI, I was a senior member of KARI’s Animal Health research programme. I coordinated KARI’s Epidemiology and Disease Control sub-programme and served as Deputy Director of KARI’s Trypanosomiasis Research Centre.  I am therefore excited to have accepted this role and look forward to leveraging my over 25 years’ experience, skills, knowledge and networks in R&D and R&D leadership to contribute towards the achievement of GALVmed’s strategic goals.

What is your vision for GALVmed’s R&D work?

I envision a vibrant R&D department with a highly inspired team working with our partners to develop and roll out safe (to humans, livestock and the environment), efficacious, easy to use and affordable livestock vaccines, medicines and diagnostics that are pro-poor. I am privileged to be joining GALVmed at a time when the organisation is just beginning to execute its 2030 strategy implementation plan. The R&D department will contribute to achieving GALVmed’s strategic objectives by delivering on four strategic themes: 1) end-to-end product development, 2) use of current antigens with new technologies, 3) industry support for localized animal health product development technology platforms in LMICs and, 4) establishment and support of specialized manufacturing capabilities. Collectively, these four themes will provide a systematic and comprehensive framework for impactful interventions across the animal health product development chain. Effective product development partnerships have been a key contributor to GALVmed’s success.  Thus, in all our efforts, we will continue to work closely with GALVmed’s traditional partners in research, academia, and the animal health industry.  Where and when necessary, we will seek and establish new product development partnerships.

What are your aspirations for GALVmed’s mandate?

I very much identify with GALVmed’s vision, mission and core values. I am passionate about the use of translational research to develop products that would bring about transformational change in the lives of smallholder livestock producers. It is unacceptable that in this era and age of cutting-edge scientific and technological advancements, smallholder livestock producers should continue to lose their livelihood due to livestock diseases that are controllable. It’s my aspiration that working with GALVmed’s partners and other stakeholders, we shall one day (soon) be in a position whereby, leveraging scientific advancements such as genomics, have a sufficiently diverse portfolio of tools/solutions that meet the needs of smallholder livestock producers. Such solutions should be affordable, abundantly available and widely accessible to the end users.

What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career?

As the founding Director of Africa Technical Research Centre (ATRC) at Vector Health International (VHI), the Board of Directors tasked me with the responsibility of setting up and operationalising a state-of-the-art R&D centre. Prior to joining ATRC, I had worked as a research scientist for nearly 17 years in well-established research institutions (KETRI and KARI). So, the successful establishment of ATRC, building and managing R&D teams and establishing strategic product development partnerships was a significant highlight in my career. By the time of my departure, just about 10 years since ATRC was officially inaugurated, together with my R&D team, and working in close collaboration with our product development partners, we had managed to develop over 10 products for agriculture (livestock and crop protection) and for public health. These products are currently being commercialized across Africa and creating positive impact in the livelihoods of millions of people in this region.

In life, what experience would you say has influenced you the most?

My childhood played an important role in making me the person that I am today. I grew up on a resource poor smallholder farm in rural Kenya (in the then Nyanza Province), where I experienced first-hand, the devastating effects of poverty. My parents raised livestock which were sold to pay for our schooling. They also practiced small-scale crop agriculture for subsistence and to supplement family income. The whole family worked very hard on the farm to earn a living, and I spent a significant part of my early childhood herding livestock. I therefore learned the values of hard work, teamwork, compassion (from herding livestock) and sharing of limited resources quite early in life. These values have stayed with me to date, and I hope to bring them to my new role.

Outside of work, what do you like to do in your free time?

I love spending time with my family. I also enjoy early-morning walks, driving in the countryside and serving at my local church.

Strengthening Access to Livestock Health Products by Small scale Producers in Ghana

In rural areas of Ghana where over the majority of small-scale livestock producers rely on small agrovet shops for livestock health inputs, supply is not always guaranteed as agrovet stores routinely ran out of stock leaving farmers struggling to gain access to critical health inputs that could save their livestock from diseases. GALVmed is working with leading last-mile veterinary delivery company, Tribecovet, to bridge current gaps in access and availability of vital livestock health products by small-scale livestock producers.

Developing a Public Private Partnership Framework for FMD in Eastern Africa

Although Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) have been implemented in Eastern Africa, they have largely been for infrastructural development in the road, water, and energy sectors. Applying PPP approaches in the veterinary sector is still an emerging concept. But now, thanks to the AgResults Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Vaccine Challenge Project, there is a new standardised PPP Framework that highlights the landscape, challenges, and opportunities of PPPs in the FMD vaccine value chain.

The FMD Vaccine Challenge Project is an eight-year, US$17.68 million Pay-for-Results prize competition that encourages the development and uptake of high-quality FMD vaccines tailored to meet the needs of Eastern Africa in six target countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. One of the project’s goals is to develop a private sector model for buying and distributing FMD vaccines to complement public sector efforts in the region. PPP Frameworks can be crucial tools for communicating and raising awareness among key stakeholders. The team knew that creating such a framework for the FMD vaccine value chain could attract private sector investments into the veterinary domain to effectively and efficiently control FMD in the region.

To develop the PPP Framework, the FMD Vaccine Challenge Project team customized aspects of the OIE PPP Handbook into a practical framework, aimed at sparking commitments between partners to strengthen the FMD vaccine value chain in Eastern Africa. Although the OIE PPP Handbook is the single most comprehensive resource on PPP development in the veterinary sector, it only offers general guidelines.

The development process involved seeking views and inputs from the groups in Eastern Africa that would use the tool: veterinarians, para-veterinarians, and representatives from vaccine manufacturers, importers, distributors, livestock enterprises, and farmer organizations. From October 2020 to August 2021, the team engaged these key public and private sector stakeholders to collate feedback on their perspectives and interests in PPPs.  

Although COVID-19 restrictions forced these meetings to be virtual, the discussions were dynamic, and participants provided enthusiastic comments that are summarized and validated in the PPP Framework. To create a stronger enabling environment, participants overwhelmingly identified the need to establish PPPs as well as link existing PPP units with their respective Departments of Veterinary Services. Responding to this feedback, the framework points out key challenges to the establishment of PPPs: lack of awareness of their benefits, trust issues between the public and private sector, and lack of financing. In addition, it identifies and prioritises opportunities for PPPs in vaccine production, purchasing, distribution, delivery, vaccinations, and post-vaccination monitoring for each of the six target countries.

Now that the PPP Framework is finalized, the FMD Vaccine Challenge Project team is focused on promoting its use in manufacturing, purchasing, distribution, and vaccination campaigns. This involves (1) identifying partnerships to promote the PPP Framework in target countries and (2) facilitating PPP MOUs, contracts, and/or informal partnership agreements in those countries.

Making the framework relevant and accessible will hopefully catalyze future PPP arrangements in the FMD vaccine value chain and trigger PPPs in the general veterinary domain.

The full PPP framework is available here. For more information on the AgResults FMD Vaccine Challenge Project, visit the GALVmed and AgResults websites.

Written by Badi Maulidi

Contributing to the Sustainable Supply and Delivery of Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine in Eastern Africa

Endemic throughout Eastern Africa, Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) can devastate livestock productivity and severely hamper small-scale producers’ livelihoods and food security. FMD is a complex disease with a lot of strain variation, and there is currently no suitable vaccine that addresses all the risks in the region. Recognizing these challenges, the AgResults FMD Vaccine Challenge Project encourages the development and uptake of high-quality FMD vaccines tailored to Eastern Africa. The Pay-for-Results prize competition includes several activities to support the long-term sustainability of FMD vaccine supply and delivery in six target countries (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda).

The Project’s cost-share approach supports the sustainable supply of FMD vaccines by partially covering the purchase costs of high-quality FMD vaccines over a four-year period and driving initial uptake. Once the vaccines’ efficacy is demonstrated in the field, regional demand is expected to grow, ensuring a more stable market that ultimately benefits the typical end-users: small-scale producers.

In addition to the cost-share mechanism, the Project team is conducting several other activities to contribute to the long-term sustainability of FMD vaccine supply and delivery in the Eastern African region:

A combination of activities—from ensuring quality standards to coordinating with regional institutions to encourage private sector delivery—is needed to build a stable FMD vaccine market in Eastern Africa when the Project comes to an end. These efforts will enable small-scale producers  to access the vaccines they need to keep their livestock healthy.

For more information on the AgResults FMD Vaccine Challenge Project, visit the GALVmed and AgResults website.

Written by Nina Henning

Hatchery vaccination to boost opportunities for poultry producers in Africa

Poultry is an important protein source and an asset for small-scale producers in Africa. However, losses due to preventable diseases continue to significantly impact farmers’ livelihoods and financial stability. Low poultry vaccination combined with inadequate information about circulating diseases and how to treat them form a constant barrier to production by small-scale producers (SSPs).

In April 2021 GALVmed and Ceva launched PREVENT, an initiative designed to establish an innovative and pragmatic veterinary health platform in Sub-Saharan Africa through hatchery vaccination. PREVENT will work with medium-size hatcheries in target countries to annually distribute more than 50 million vaccinated-old-chicks to SSPs. These chicks will be effectively protected against the major infectious poultry diseases thereby improving overall flock health and boosting SSPs’ financial prospects.

Apart from vaccination, there are other key elements in preventing and dealing with animal diseases, such as awareness, knowledge, adequate treatment, etc. In this understanding, the project will train and collaborate with a team of field technicians to assist and provide husbandry advice to poultry SSPs leading to best flock management practices.

PREVENT is an initiative not only focused on the clear benefits of poultry vaccination, but also set to be gender transformative. Intensification in poultry farming typically leads to erosion of the participation of women in management activities. This project will make deliberate efforts to minimise this trend in partner poultry SSPs households.

Lastly, there is a need of building knowledge on diseases that affect small-scale poultry production in scoped countries. To meet this need, an elaborate epidemiological study will be undertaken where samples will be collected at SSPs’ level for further analysis. We believe that this knowledge will not only be valuable for the project but also inform future interventions.

In a nutshell, by implementing vaccination at the level of the hatcheries, we will see an impact all the way across the value chain that will ultimately improve the sustainability of poultry production system across the target Africa countries (Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Mozambique). Healthy poultry equals more opportunities to small-scale producers, who will minimise their losses and develop their business to get a more financially secure future.

The PREVENT project was officially launched on April 7, 2021. PREVENT (PRomoting and Enabling Vaccination Efficiently, Now and Tomorrow) is a 4-year initiative in partnership with the animal health company CEVA.

Press release

Book Review: Practical Skills on Backyard Poultry Production in India

GALVmed has been working on Newcastle Disease control in India for a while now. Together with our partners, have amassed a wealth of information on this devastating poultry disease that can wipe entire flocks during outbreaks. ND control is an important aspect of our work because chickens not only provide much needed nutrition but for many small-scale livestock producers, chickens provide access to family income. Alongside other small animals like goats and sheep, chickens are often nicknamed “ATMs” because they are convenient sources of cash.

In the tribal regions of Orissa, GALVmed worked with local partners to vaccinate birds against ND. These were accompanied by rigorous awareness creation activities and strengthening the vaccine supply chain so that small-scale farmers who needed the vaccine could easily access them. After a period of time, we started to get reports of ND outbreaks reducing and number of birds increasing. This change translated into economic and social benefits for small-scale producers. The livestock producers were now more likely to deal with other challenges such as lack of adequate space to house their ever-increasing flock, birds being preyed on by wild animals and other diseases such as Fowl Pox.

The wealth of information we have acquired together with our partners has been documented in various platforms including peer-reviewed journals that you can find in our database. One that I would like to highlight is a book written by a long-term partner and consultant for GALVmed, Dr Kornel Das. In the book, Practical Skills on Backyard Poultry Production in India, Dr Kornel has documented small-scale producers’ backyard poultry problems and solutions – from suitable breeds to alternate and low-cost housing and feeding and important diseases and their management. The book provides useful training guidelines for rural poultry vaccinators with just a few days of training. It is also a useful resource for veterinarians, paraprofessionals, poultry keepers as well as planners. Moreover, it is based on the experience and context of small-scale livestock producers.

In his experience, Dr Kornel has been working with tribal poultry keepers for many years on low-cost, high impact technologies including low-cost housing for birds, feeders and drinkers made from locally available materials such as bamboo and alternative source of bird food like azolla and white ant. Once regular vaccination against ND and Fowlpox as well as deworming were introduced, livestock producers started to see the benefits and gradually adapted to these new practices. Dr Kornel documents all that knowledge in this book which is also available in Hindi and Orissa.

All those who work in poultry health and production especially in south Asia will find this resource useful.

Blog written by Peetambar Kushwaha as part of the Poultry Health Campaign

Plucking feathers: Could needle-free immunisation methods boost the fight against Newcastle disease and Fowl Pox?

Newcastle disease and Fowl Pox are amongst the most important constraints on the production of poultry in rural communities of many low to middle-income countries, and clearly efforts must be geared towards educating and involving farmers to control these diseases.

To provide a vaccination approach for Fowl Pox and Newcastle disease, that can be easily adopted by small-scale farmers, a field study was conducted by GALVmed together with the Open University of Tanzania in 2018. The researchers investigated the immune responses of chickens to Fowl Pox and Newcastle disease vaccines, when administered at the same time by needle-free routes. For this approach, the Fowl Pox vaccine was administered via feather follicles and the Newcastle disease vaccine via eye. The feather follicle method is long known and also used to vaccinate pigeons against pigeon pox. Basically, a group of feathers is plucked from a bird’s thigh and a vaccine-dipped brush rubbed inside the openings of the exposed holes of the feather follicles. The birds are then inspected 7 to 10 days later for “takes”. “Takes” are nodules that occur at the inoculation site and indicate successful vaccination. The study results showed that the non-invasive concurrent vaccination is safe and induces immunisation levels to Fowl Pox and Newcastle disease that are as good as to vaccinations alone.

Following the study in Tanzania, GALVmed aimed to confirm if the same approach works in a different geographic setting in South-East Asia. However, this was not as straightforward as we hoped for. Amongst the complications we faced between 2018 to 2021 were: a devastating cyclone, interruptions due to local elections, difficult terrain, seasonal challenges, and last but not least the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet against all odds and obstacles, GALVmed in partnership with Heifer Project Nepal have now successfully completed the field work in twelve rural communities in Goganpani in Dhading District in the Bagmati Province of Nepal. The team is currently analysing the data and hopes to publish their findings as soon as possible, wishing that the needle-free immunisation methods will empower small-scale poultry producers by making them less dependent on para-vets or vets for Newcastle disease and Fowl Pox vaccinations.

Village level project orientation meeting at Kattalpauwa

Blog written by Kristin Stuke as part of the Poultry Health Campaign

Impact of Foot and Mouth Disease on small-scale producers and the hope for better solutions

Lawrence Njane who lives in Kahuho village, Kiambu county in Kenya has been keeping dairy cattle for the last two decades after retiring from civil service.  During this period, he has encountered various livestock diseases and has been dealing with them with the help of animal health experts in his locality. But something unique happened to his livestock in 2019 which he says he has never experienced before. A particularly devasting outbreak of foot and mouth disease swept through his village and destroyed his and his neighbour’s livestock businesses and killed many young calves.

Foot and mouth disease is highly contagious, spreading very quickly especially in farms belonging to small-scale livestock producers due to lack of effective biosecurity measures. During outbreaks such as that witnessed in Kenya in 2019-2020, productivity of animals in the affected regions is severely impacted and restrictions on cattle movement affect both intra-country and regional trade.

Lawrence, who owned 14 heifers prior to the outbreak, has now been left counting his losses after losing four calves and selling off most of his heifers that became non-productive. He is now left with only two heifers. Even though he was not milking all his cows before the outbreak, his milk production has reduced from 70 liters per day to a mere 18 liters per day.

“Prior to the outbreak, I was averaging an income of about Kenya shillings 80,000 (US$ 730) per month. I was servicing a bank loan which I had taken to buy some land so I could increase the feed production for the animals. Now I am averaging just Kenya shillings 14,000 (US$ 127). This disease has set me back drastically,” says Lawrence.

But Lawrence is not about to give up livestock farming. He is hoping that a more reliable solution, such as a better vaccine, can be developed and be made widely available so he can continue with his passion and livelihood without having to worry that his investment will go down the drain.    

In 2020, AgResults launched an eight-year, US$17.68 million prize competition that supports the development and uptake of high-quality FMD vaccines tailored to meet the needs of Eastern Africa. The Project is encouraging the development of a private sector model for buying and distributing high-quality FMD vaccines, to complement public sector efforts so that farmers like Lawrence have better accessibility to effective vaccines to protect their cattle.

“If there was reliable access to a vaccine that will protect my cows from FMD, why would I not buy it after sinking my life savings in this business?” asks Lawrence. For now, Lawrence and his neighbours are left to manage the symptoms, not knowing when this most infectious disease may strike again.

Written by Beatrice Ouma.

Improving vet services for small-scale producers through digital apps

Sixty-two-year-old Grace Kamau carries tattered, yellowed documents that she stores in a cupboard in her bedroom with care. These precious documents contain records about the health of her livestock. One of the documents shows when the local vet came to vaccinate her heifers against Foot and Mouth Disease. Another is for when her cow was inseminated. Grace also has numerous aging receipts of animal health products. These documents paint a vivid picture of Grace’s interaction with various veterinary officials over a period. But she rarely brings them out unless specifically requested, which means the various veterinary officials she interacted with in the past did not always get to see the history of her animals’ health but would begin by treating new symptoms.

Many small-scale livestock producers have contact with several veterinary officials but rarely keep records of their livestock’s health, often relying on vague estimates and guesses based on their past experiences to make animal health decisions. And when they do have such records, many of them, like Grace keep them manually, often stored away and rarely consulted.

Making such records easily available can immensely improve decision making at the farm. If a farmer wants to build a financially successful livestock enterprise, record keeping is a must. The records can be used to further develop the farm and the herd, and thereby the sector in the country. Thanks to increased penetration of mobile phones across the developing world, farm data is going digital to improve service delivery for small-scale producers.

“There’s tremendous opportunities that data presents. If we can combine data that exists internally and externally, we are able to use advanced analytics to predict disease occurrence, predict market size so suppliers can estimate how much product they should produce and supply and where they should supply these products,” says Dr Tom Osebe, GALVmed’s Senior Manager for Commercial Development in Africa.

The LastMile Initiative, which seeks to bridge current gaps in access, availability, and awareness of animal healthcare solutions for smallholder farmers in Africa has joined this digital revolution and launched a mobile app in 2020 that would monitor on-farm animal health services for efficient service delivery by animal health retailers and veterinarians.

At the time of the launch, Emilie Veillat, the Key Account Manager and “LastMile” application lead, at Boehringer Ingelheim noted that mobile app was not only critical for accurate data collection and monitoring, but it also helps teams stay connected, particularly in these challenging times of the pandemic.

Fast-forward to February 2021 and Grace has just been visited by Elijah Kiiru, one of the LastMile’s technicians. This time, Grace doesn’t rely on her manual records. Elijah whips out his smartphone and filters Grace’s records. Grace’s heifer recently gave birth and Elijah notes that in the app. They also go through the chicken’s history. Elijah advices Grace on vaccination of the chickens and other biosecurity measures. Grace’s information is stored securely and is readily available when the LastMile team visits her farm. They can track her visits, advisory services given and health of the animals.

“The LastMile team have helped me to organise my records. When I need information, Elijah is just a phone call away. I am happy with the progress in my farm,” says Grace.

Availability of veterinary data is crucial for providing effective and impactful services to small-scale livestock producers and the LastMile app is part of that solution, gathering information that is turned into knowledge, insights and action that will ultimately improve farmers’ livelihoods.

Written by Beatrice Ouma.

Transforming veterinary services through a digital app

Smallholder farmers in Africa have limited or no access to high quality veterinary medicinal products due to weak distribution channels, low levels of awareness about animal diseases and how these can be prevented or treated. However, smart technologies can empower those hard-to-reach farmers by being part of the solution to leverage on data, surveillance and interconnectivity. The LastMile mobile app is currently being used to collect data that improves the understanding and knowledge about the smallholder farmer sector in order to provide better informed decisions regarding veterinary care for their livestock and poultry.