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New Program To Combat Animal Disease

Animal diseases like African swine fever and goat plague are jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions in poor nations and could take hold in Europe unless the fight against them is stepped up, scientists said Feb. 15.

Researchers from the Britain’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) said deadly and debilitating animal diseases are rampant in many parts of the developing world, threatening the lives of farmers and their families and stifling prospects for global trade and economic growth.

“In many poor countries livestock are crucial capital assets, they are walking bank accounts, cushioning the shock that poor communities receive to their livelihoods,” Jeff Waage of the London International Development Centre told a briefing in London to announce new research funding.

Just one animal can meet a whole family’s needs and offer a way out of poverty, he said, but often such animals and their potential are wiped out by waves of animal diseases like foot and mouth, swine fever and goat plague and liver fluke.

To help in the fight against such diseases the BBRSC and the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Scottish government announced 13 million pounds ($20.37 million) of funding for new research projects aimed at improving food security and building scientific knowledge.

“Healthy animals can mean the difference between feeding a family or being plunged further into poverty and malnutrition,” said Junior Development minister Mike Foster.

“This new research will reduce poverty, increase animal welfare and ultimately improve the quality of life for some of the world’s poorest people.”

The projects will match British scientists with researchers in Asia, Africa and other parts of the developing world.

They include studies on foot-and-mouth disease – one of the most devastating animal diseases and one which affects all cloven-hooved animals; goat plague, which causes serious disease in sheep and goats; and liver fluke, which can hit cattle, buffalo, goats and sheep in many areas of Asia and Africa.

A scheme in Tanzania will aim to map the genetic variation in foot-and-mouth viruses to help develop ways of controlling the disease, which is endemic in parts of the world.

Another project will seek to develop a vaccine for liver fluke worms in India, where experts say their impact can lead to as much as 3.1 billion pounds a year in losses for farmers.

Douglas Kell, BBRSC chief executive, said the studies should help farming authorities develop a range of tools from better vaccinations to more sophisticated diagnosis methods which could “transform the lives of millions across the developing world.”

Waage said climate change and global trade were also driving increasing incidence of animal disease from Africa and Asia into Europe and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, meaning the studies would be of future value there too.

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