Zach Bernsten | Palladium - Apr 15 2020
How Susceptible are African Countries to Zoonotic Disease Outbreaks?

Livestock growth and intensification in Africa are inevitable. 

Zoonotic disease outbreaks (diseases that transmit from animals to humans) pose a clear and significant threat. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN has worked with Palladium to publish a series of projections based on livestock production, and applied the One Health Policy Model to predict the social impact these outbreaks could have. 

Africa is largely seen as the fastest-developing region in the world: U.N. projections show the continent’s population doubling and GDP tripling by 2050. With this unprecedented growth in mind — as well as the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic — the possibility of novel zoonotic disease outbreaks promises to be one of many grand challenges African nations will face in the next 30 years.

Globally, as economic development progresses, populations with greater purchasing power tend to transition from predominately cereal-based diets to meat-based diets. A large-scale shift of this nature requires a massive productivity increase in the livestock sector, which naturally results in more human-to-animal contact. This creates a unique challenge for developing countries to facilitate a rise in livestock production while contending with the public health and environmental consequences brought on by zoonotic diseases.

One Health Policy Model

In order to demonstrate the potential impacts of increased livestock production and the value of mitigating interventions, Palladium’s Scott Moreland and Lauren Morris conducted quantitative assessments in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and country collaborators. Moreland and Morris applied the One Health Policy Model (OHPM) — as developed under the USAID-funded Preparedness and Response project — to predict the societal impact of various zoonotic disease outbreak scenarios. OHPM seeks to incorporate data across the public health, environmental, and economic sectors to develop effective public policies.

The studies used quantitative projections of livestock production to determine the likely prevalence of zoonotic diseases in the four countries by 2050. OHPM-based projections were used to determine the impacts of these diseases based on different economic growth and governance capacity scenarios in each country, as defined by country stakeholders. In keeping the livestock projections consistent, the studies sought to measure how different levels of economic growth and strength of government institutions would affect countries’ susceptibility to zoonotic disease outbreaks.

Economic Growth and Zoonotic Diseases

Across the four countries involved in the studies, the results consistently demonstrated that scenarios exhibiting strong economic growth and governance were linked to lower prevalence of zoonotic diseases and lower public health burdens caused by these diseases. For example, under Uganda’s most optimistic growth scenario, 453,000 people were projected to become infected with brucellosis (a zoonotic disease carried by cattle) in 2050, compared with 4 million people infected under the worst-case growth scenario. However, even when prevalence rate projections were low, economic and environmental cost projections were significant. In Burkina Faso, for example, even the best-case scenario showed that cattle would account for 24% of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions in 2050, while the cost of zoonotic disease outbreaks of all origins was estimated at 0.41% of total GDP annually. While these statistics were better than those for the worst-case growth scenario, they would still represent a significant societal cost to Burkina Faso.

Continued economic progress in Africa combined with population growth will lead to substantial growth in livestock as sources of livelihoods and food security. The benefits of livestock expansion must be balanced with the increased risks of zoonotic disease transmission and strains on the environment. While governance capacity, resource abundance, and health infrastructure vary across Africa, all developing countries on the continent must brace for the wide-ranging consequences of zoonotic disease outbreaks.

“Livestock growth and intensification in Africa are inevitable,” says Palladium Senior Director Scott Moreland. “African countries must be aware of and ready for the potential risks that this brings to public health and the environment as shown in these studies.”

Read the full reports:

Palladium implemented the Preparedness and Response project from 2014 to 2019 for USAID.