The influence of human actions on animal disease epidemiology is increasingly recognized, with human behaviour often acknowledged as a driver of disease spread. This lecture will discuss how veterinary epidemiology research that focuses on societal factors governing livelihoods and disease control decisions and that includes the voices of poor and marginalised people can improve the understanding and control of animal diseases. The examples presented will mainly cover application of participatory epidemiology (PE) in African swine fever (ASF) epidemiology research. The described methodological development of PE is however beneficial for studies of many animal diseases in low- as well as high-income countries.
ASF is a lethal, viral fever of domestic pigs and European wild boar. Since 2007 a global ASF-epidemic is ongoing in Europe and Asia, and recently reaching the Americas. In some parts of Europe this epidemic mainly affects wild boar populations and the specific epidemiology and disease ecology in that context is still not completely understood. In most situations, however, human activities within the domestic pig value chains drive the spread of ASF.
Available knowledge about the virus and its epidemiology is theoretically sufficient for controlling ASF in domestic pigs and disease propagation can be hindered by consistent use of basic biosecurity. Despite this, containment is not achieved in smallholder settings around the world. It is especially difficult to control ASF in low biosecurity-smallholder systems constrained by poverty, often resulting in a dual problem of disease transmission and disease induced poverty traps.
Better understanding of the local sociocultural, economic and political dimensions of animal keeping and disease transmission is essential to achieve sustainable control. In this regard, special attention should be paid to local disease epidemiology, context-specific systemic factors influencing farming choices and particular disease control constraints resulting from poverty. This calls for a transdisciplinary, participatory methodology combining different disciplines of social science and veterinary epidemiology. The lecture will give some examples of how knowledge and experience from the social sciences tradition of participatory research can be integrated into the veterinary application of PE, improving the capacity of the method to advance this field of research.
The veterinary application of PE stems from participatory methods first used in development cooperation to make projects better attuned to local needs and priorities. Recent methodological development of PE has reengaged with its roots to increase local participation and develop better ways to take account of the diversity of experiences from disease and disease control within communities. Aspects of how power dynamics might impact information sharing have also received more attention.
A renewed focus on smallholders’ own priorities of animal health constraints, and an increased understanding that these priorities might not correspond with researchers’ priorities, can further lead to more feasible and sustainable biosecurity measures, improved implementation of these, and in the end better disease control.