by Marcia Hill Gossard '99, '04
Traveling by bicycle, community interviewers visit homes in Asembo, Kenya, to learn how animal and human disease impacts a family’s health, access to education, and economic well-being. They will visit more than 1,400 households four times each year over several years to ask about their nutrition, family members’ health, household assets, and health of their animals. They collect the data on a handheld computer, or PDA, so that it can be sent back to Pullman the next day for analysis.
Community volunteers interviewing a family in Asembo, Kenya
The goal is to reduce poverty and hunger and improve health and education.
“Animals are a major financial and nutritional asset for these families,” said Guy Palmer, director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. “When animals are healthier, families tend to be healthier.”
Last February, the Allen School launched the Population Based Animal Syndromic Surveillance and the Socio-Economic Survey in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (known as the KEMRI/CDC Research and Public Health Collaboration) and the University of Washington. The project is led onsite by Dr. Thumbi Mwangi, clinical assistant professor in the Allen School.
Besides asking about nutrition in the house, the health of their animals, and demographics such as age, occupation, and number of children, researchers are also asking about household assets. For families in east Africa, assets may include their livestock, plows, bicycles, tractor, radios, or motorcycles. Previous research has shown that when the health of animals improves, it increases the family’s assets. And these increases tend to go to education and health care for children.
A family in Asembo, Kenya
If their hypothesis is right and healthier animals can lead to more money spent on children’s health and education, it could have long term positive affects for these communities. For example, in rural populations and peri-urban or urban slums, children often do not receive adequate nutrition or health care. According to Dr. Palmer, children in these regions have the greatest incidence of stunted growth from insufficient protein combined with diseases that cause diarrhea. Roughly 40 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are affected by stunting.
“One of the things we are looking at is the flow of food…its availability to a household and how it is distributed in the household,” said Palmer. “Does it go to the most vulnerable populations—pregnant women and children—within the home?”
Ultimately, they are looking for effective interventions to improve the quality of families’ lives. Palmer emphasized that it will be important to assess any interventions not just once, but on an ongoing basis.
“Integrating continuous assessment into the program drives a continuous improvement,” said Palmer. “We can be more effective if we focus on the most impactful interventions. And we will reduce costs by eliminating ineffective ones.”