NAIROBI, Kenya, May 11 (UPI) -- There is a plethora of anecdotal evidence that the health of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is closely linked to the health of their livestock. Now there is quantitative evidence too.
Researchers at Washington State University's Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health recently tracked the health of some 1,500 households and their farm animals in rural Kenya. Their findings showed a strong link between illnesses in the house and in the animal pens.
Sickness experienced by family members was closely tied to the number of illnesses and deaths experienced among livestock.
Researchers visited ten villages, visiting farmers and distributing cell phones. Families could use the phone and free hotline to report illnesses. Scientists were able to collect data on some 6,400 adults and children, as well as 8,000 cattle, 2,400 goats, 1,300 sheep and 18,000 chickens. Phone-collected data was verified by biweekly visits from veterinary teams.
The data showed that for every ten instances of sickness or death among the animals, the risk of illness among family members went up by 31 percent.
"Our findings help to understand, in quantitative terms, the complex pathways that link livestock health to the health and welfare of the humans who own them," Kenya-based lead author Thumbi Mwangi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Washington State, explained in a press release. "It's important because an estimated 300 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa depend on their livestock as a main source of livelihood and nutrition."
Animals are a good proxy for measuring human health in Kenya for a three main reasons, researchers say. Healthy livestock mean healthier income, which affords families improved medical care. Healthy farm animals also mean improved nutrition for caretakers and others in the community. And finally -- the obvious -- healthy animals are less like to spread disease and cause food-borne illnesses among their human neighbors and caretakers.
The study was published recently in the journal PLOS ONE.