USAID’s TRANSFORM Consortium Helps Fight Zoonotic Diseases

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SEATTLE, Washington — According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 225,000 people die each year in the Asia-Pacific region due to foodborne illnesses. Additionally, the World Health Organization reported that 137,000 people die from illnesses stemming from contaminated food in Africa. These statistics help illustrate the severity of global health challenges, which the 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses that occur each year have already illustrated. USAID, along with leading private sector companies, is working to tackle foodborne illnesses through a new five-year, $33 million consortium called the Transformational Strategies for Farm Output Risk Management (TRANSFORM). The consortium’s goal is to fight zoonotic diseases, illnesses that spread from animals to humans, and improve livestock management in countries struggling with these diseases throughout Asia and Africa.

Fighting the Prevalence of Zoonotic Diseases

The World Wildlife Foundation’s 2020 report showed approximately 60% of emerging infectious diseases worldwide are zoonoses. Overall, research indicates that around 80% of viruses and 50% of bacterial pathogens originated in animals. The devastating effects of those types of illnesses are evident in sub-Saharan Africa where viral and bacterial hazards accounted for around 70% of the “foodborne disease burden” in the region. Specifically, Salmonella has the highest mortality rate of any foodborne hazard in Africa, causing approximately 32,000 deaths every year.

The food corporation Cargill leads the TRANSFORM consortium. it looks to combat foodborne diseases by helping improve production and supply chain processes in vulnerable areas. For instance, Cargill will begin working on trials in 2022 that examine the connection between animal nutrition and the effects of zoonotic diseases on humans. Heifer International, a nonprofit focused on global hunger in the consortium, will also work in Kenya and India to help smallholder farms lacking heavy financial support improve their animal health and biosecurity measures.

The TRANSFORM Consortium and Antimicrobial Resistance

The consortium’s concerns over zoonotic diseases extend well beyond reducing their prevalence. TRANSFORM will also look to address the potential of zoonotic diseases in developing antimicrobial resistance through the high prevalence of antibiotic usage in animals, especially in low-and-middle-income countries.

According to a recent article by Science magazine, “Antimicrobials have saved millions of human lives, yet the majority (73%) are used in animals raised for food.” This practice, tied in part to the increase in meat production in Asia and Africa, resulted in antimicrobial resistance in animals and sometimes even humans.

Researchers identified Asia as containing the biggest hotspots for antimicrobial resistance in animals. There is also the potential for future hotspots emerging in Kenya and India as well. High levels of antimicrobial resistance could have a devastating effect on food safety in these areas. If a zoonotic disease becomes resistant to antimicrobials, it might also become capable of resisting treatment measures when it infects a human.

The International Poultry Council, one of the associations in TRANSFORM, will work toward creating and aiding in the adoption of industry standards and policies relating to antimicrobials and their heavy usage in food animals. Ausvet, an epidemiology organization in the consortium, will also gather insights into antibiotic usage during its collection on vaccination programs and disease occurrences in Vietnam and Indonesia as part of its effort to help farmers and the government make informed decisions related to animal health.

The Importance of the TRANSFORM Consortium

The USAID-created TRANSFORM consortium appears poised to make great strides in combating the effects of critical food safety issues like zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance. In some parts of Asia and Africa, foodborne diseases are a problem that can not be overlooked. Through research in antimicrobial resistance in animals, TRANSFORM can help both the consumers and numerous livestock farmers around the world.

– Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

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