In late June, drug regulators from around the world gathered in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to brainstorm solutions for solving a major problem in many African countries and other developing nations: a lack of access to veterinary care, and most importantly, to particular drugs and vaccines that could protect against livestock losses. The event, called the 4th Global Animal Health Conference, was sponsored the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by the international trade group HealthforAnimals.
|Samuel Thevasagayam leads the Gates Foundation's Livestock initiative|
The conference was a vital element of the Gates Foundation's overall mission to improve global health conditions, said Samuel Thevasagayam, the organization's deputy director in charge of livestock initiatives, in a phone interview with FierceAnimalHealth. "When we entered the agricultural area, we realized that in areas where people earn less than $2 a day, 60% of them had livestock," Thevasagayam said. "Animal-sourced food provides essential nutrients. So we wanted to reduce the preventable losses from livestock production that are caused by diseases, and then optimize the genetic potential of these animals to maximize their productive capacity."
There are many obstacles to reaching those goals, however. The African continent is expected to face a 168% increase in food demand by 2030, according to HealthforAnimals. But farmers can't keep up, largely because of diseases such as East Coast fever, which kills a cow every 30 seconds in East Africa alone. There are vaccines for East Coast fever and other diseases, but an underdeveloped regulatory system in some regions is preventing companies from entering those markets, while at the same time leaving farmers vulnerable to sales pitches from companies selling counterfeit drugs, Thevasagayam said.
During the two-day event, representatives from the FDA and several international regulatory bodies discussed potential methods for enabling farmers in developing countries to access vaccines and drugs for food animals. Regulators from Africa gathered ideas for harmonizing the approval and marketing of veterinary drugs in different countries and for setting up "centers of excellence" that would provide expertise in various specialties, Thevasagayam said. "That way, they can help each other and act as a region," Thevasagayam said. "That was received very well."
Bettye Walters, an officer at the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, attended the event and was encouraged by its focus on "regulatory convergence," or the process of more closely aligning regulatory agencies from different countries. "We tackled important ideas related to promoting market control, including the surveillance of veterinary products on the market and improving access to effective animal drugs," Walters said in an FDA blog post. "If all countries can agree on the testing and safety of animal drugs, each country could have faster access to new medical products and be able to better leverage often-limited resources."
Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, executive director of HealthforAnimals (formerly the International Foundation for Animal Health), urged regional organizations in Africa to continue discussing and implementing some of the ideas that came out of the conference. "We hope that as a result of the conference debates, further improvements will be made in market control and market access," he said in a press release.
Thevasagayam said he left the conference encouraged by the prospect of improving livestock health and production in Africa, and he harkened back to East Coast fever, which he says is a prime example of a preventable scourge. "Farmers know that when East Coast fever attacks, so many animals will die. Yet for $10 an animal, they could get a vaccine that would protect them for life," Thevasagayam said. "Regulatory reform takes time, but I'm very hopeful and encouraged to see it has already started."