Most of the horses and donkeys in the world live with and work for poor people. The impact of these animals on the lives of poor people is enormous and global. Working equids reduce poverty, provide food security, and help promote gender equity for much of the “bottom billion” of the world’s growing population. Despite these critical roles, somehow the world has largely forgotten these animals. We don’t even properly count them; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ estimate of the global equine population, at approximately 113 million, is widely regarded as a gross underestimate because of their routine omission from census data.
Despite the enormous positive impact of these horses and donkeys on people, humanity frequently fails to prioritize their health.
An international Havemeyer Workshop report published in the January 2015 Equine Veterinary Journal described strategies to reduce the burden of infectious diseases in working equids worldwide. The task is daunting, and the solutions needed are diverse. Technical solutions such as new diagnostic tests and vaccines represent only a part of the answer, as there are extensive social-behavioral and institutional barriers to overcome.
The workshop proposed three categories of diseases. The first category includes diseases such as African horsesickness, rabies, tetanus and gastrointestinal parasites, for which most technical barriers have been overcome, but which need improved surveillance, owner education and advocacy at the governmental level in order to achieve progress. A second category includes diseases for which significant gaps still exist in our technical understanding and resources, such as epizootic lymphangitis, piroplasmosis and trypanosomiasis. A third category includes syndromic diseases, where the role of infectious agents has not been defined, including respiratory, neurologic and anemia syndromes that are highly prevalent in these populations.
The challenges that complicate addressing infectious diseases in working equids are captured by the One Health paradigm. Both people and animals face environmental factors such as water shortage, climate change and environmental pollution to name but a few that shape the infectious diseases from which they suffer. Impoverished humans and animals have limited access to pharmaceutical treatments that often are of questionable quality and frequently are misused in ways that can exacerbate problems such as antimicrobial resistance. For investigators like me, who have spent our careers pursuing technical advances in vaccine or diagnostic technologies, it is vital that we understand that education and advocacy, at both the governmental and local levels, are likely to be more important in addressing the enormous impact of infectious disease in working horses and donkeys. It is instructive to study the evolving behavior of major charities that operate in this area, such as SPANA, the Brooke, and the Donkey Sanctuary. While their clinical hospitals are still central pillars of activities, efforts are currently focused on building sustainable local capacity and educational development.
This article was authored by Dr. D. Paul Lunn of the College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University.
This article is from the Equine Disease Quarterly, published by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment Department of Veterinary Science and sponsored by Lloyd’s of London and its Kentucky agents. You may subscribe to this publication for free.