A study on the lasting effects of vaccinating Kenyan cattle has found that farmers who benefited from the procedure are more likely to send their daughters to school. Girls’ education is known to be among the most reliable ways to overcome poverty in Africa, making the vaccination program an effective poverty breaker.
Fifty million people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on their livestock for income and food. In eastern and southern parts of Africa, East Coast Fever (ECF) is the leading cause of calf mortality. ECF is a cattle disease transmitted by ticks, but is highly susceptible to vaccination.
To assess the benefits of vaccination, Professor Thomas Marsh of Washington State University interviewed hundreds of Kenyan pastoralists across four districts, both about vaccination and about income disposal. In Science Advances, he reports that just 16 percent of cattle in the study were vaccinated, with 40 percent of herds having at least some vaccination. The higher survival rate of the vaccinated cattle paid for the procedure’s cost, and it also contributed to greater milk production and reduced use of antibiotics. A typical family with 66 mature cows got an extra $35 a year in disposable income, even accounting for the cost of the procedure.
Small as this sounds to the developed world, the extra money proved transformative. Most was spent on food and education. Cattle owners usually send boys to secondary school, even in families without the extra money vaccination brings. Consequently, the big beneficiaries were girls, who would otherwise have risked ending their education at primary school.
People who owned more cattle were more likely to get them vaccinated, as were those who owned more vulnerable breeds, but Marsh controlled for this in his analysis. Allowing for these and other confounding factors, he concluded a 10 percent increase in the number of vaccinated cattle produces a 1.2 percent increase in education expenditure, rising to 5.4 percent among the most responsive households.
As the paper points out, the benefits of cattle vaccination are so great that understanding the barriers to it occurring is a priority. The upfront cost is presumably a factor, as is the vaccine’s requirement for continuous refrigeration. Nevertheless, Marsh found that information from local providers of veterinary products actually reduced the likelihood of vaccination, compared to hearing about vaccination from other cattle owners.
Marsh speculates vets who make more money from selling antibiotics than vaccinating may be discouraging customers from protecting their cattle, with dire consequences. On the bright side, Marsh doesn’t report any examples of vets warning that vaccinations will make cows autistic.
The work illustrates how intertwined attempts to address poverty can be, and the need to understand the flow-on effects.