USAID injects US$6m grant to establish animal health innovation lab in Kenya

KENYA – Kenya to host a regional Feed the Future Animal Health Innovation Lab funded by a five-year US$6 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with an opportunity to grow to US$16 million.

Leading the new lab will be Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Health, who will work in partnership with scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and University of Nairobi (UoN).

“We are honoured and eager to work with the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative to improve household economies through better health of their livestock.”

Thumbi Mwangi- Associate Professor at the Allen School and Director of the Animal Health Innovation Lab.

The lab, according to ILRI will identify interventions to reduce livestock diseases, particularly the deadly cattle disease known as East Coast fever.

It will employ state-of-the-art technologies, such as the genome editing tool known as ‘CRISPR-Cas’, to develop user-friendly pen-side diagnostics and improved vaccines for East Coast fever.

The lab aims not only to deploy animal health interventions but also to track their impacts on people’s livelihoods and health and to help train the next generation of animal health scientists in this African region.

In addition to that the program will further develop local capacity in animal health through research training and institutional development.

“With high livestock mortality and morbidity comes lowered household incomes and related degradation of social and nutritional health,” said Thumbi Mwangi, associate professor at the Allen School and director of the Animal Health Innovation Lab.

“We are honoured and eager to work with the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative to improve household economies through better health of their livestock,’ added Mwangi.

East Coast fever is a fatal bovine disease caused by a single-celled parasite transmitted by ticks when they take a blood meal from an animal.

Affecting a dozen countries in Africa, this disease if left untreated can kill 100% of infected cattle in areas where the disease is not endemic.

The people most affected by East Coast fever are some 20 million small-scale dairy farmers and pastoral herders, who can least afford to lose their cows, typically their major family asset, to disease.

Animal health scientists at ILRI, which is headquartered in Nairobi, have worked for decades on improving diagnostic tests and vaccines for this and other important tropical diseases as well as understanding their socioeconomic impacts.

Dieter Schillinger, ILRI’s bioscience deputy director, said, “We are grateful to see enhanced North-South learning and collaborations and, through Washington State University, we are honoured to be part of this USAID Feed the Future initiative that will reduce the devastation wrought by livestock diseases such as East Coast fever that continue to harm the lives and livelihoods of millions of Africa’s farmers and herders.”

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