Nomad health: impact and results

In the first phase of the Jigjiga University One Health Initiative (JOHI), we trained young scientists in the fields of public and animal health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and rangeland management. Through the training in transdisciplinary methods and continuously involving the young scientists in participatory processes, they quickly learned to organise and run such meetings themselves. In the second year of JOHI, team members already organised stakeholder meetings and training for human and animal health workers on their own.

Knowledge about the complex human-environment system of mobile pastoralists unfolds from the different research projects. Pastoralists suffer from high levels of childhood malnutrition, and mothers lack knowledge on how to provide balanced nutrition for their children. Children suffer from a high frequency of diarrhoea and intestinal parasites. Very few women use antenatal care and births are rarely attended by a professional. Women depend on their husband’s consent to use such services. The more male partners support women in their healthcare decisions, the more women utilise professional health services.

Serological studies on humans and animals show that Q-fever and Rift Valley Fever are present in the study area. They are likely transmitted between livestock and humans, while brucellosis seems to not be a big problem.

Pastoralists have almost no access to tuberculosis treatment because of their mobile lifestyle. Pastoralists have their own classification systems for soil types and have very detailed knowledge on where the best fodder grows.

The study area is prone to drought and experienced two severe drought periods during the first four years of the project, causing loss of animals and rampant malnutrition in children.

While the project focuses on the building up of research capacity, it will need to keep some reserve funding to intervene during future drought periods and it will specifically address drought resilience. Interventions in human and animal health have started, but it is too early in the process to assess their effectiveness.

The major impact of JOHI so far is that communities and authorities are in a periodic exchange. The human and animal health systems remain weak and fragile. Their strengthening is a priority but also goes beyond the means of the project. Communities are willing to mobilise their own resources for emergency services, but continuous dialogue is needed to adapt existing policies and their implementation for better healthcare for humans and animals.

Requests for better livestock markets and infrastructure for safe and clean slaughtering of animals and selling of meat come up as important outcomes of the initiated participatory processes.

These show that the stakeholders have their own priorities, to which JOHI will contribute in the upcoming second phase of the project. Currently, JOHI develops policy briefs to promote adaptations of existing public and animal health policies to pastoralist settings in the Somali Region.

How would you assess this impact and why?

Author: Prof. Dr. Jakob Zinsstag