Diarrhoeal disease and lack of access to safe water remain significant public health issues in developing countries. There is also growing concern about the potential for disease, including diarrhoeal infections, to be transmitted from livestock to humans. This project addresses the potential drinking-water contamination risks to human health in rural sub-Saharan Africa, where people and livestock often live in close proximity. Preliminary fieldwork will be carried out in rural Kenya, building on an ongoing study that is simultaneously recording human and livestock disease in ten villages. The fieldwork will test different techniques to identify contamination hazards from livestock, alongside water quality testing and recording of diarrhoea in children. These techniques will include the use of GPS collars to track cattle movements, maps of hazardous areas created by the communities themselves, and also checklists for recording signs of livestock hazards at water sources and around water stored in the home. We will look at how feasible it is to record hazards using these techniques. We will also statistically assess whether we find greater water contamination and greater diarrhoea in children where there are more recorded hazards.
Since measurement of water contamination used in such areas is based on bacteria found in both livestock and humans, the project will also work on affordable ways of testing for micro-organisms that are specifically found in livestock faeces versus those found in human faeces. If successful, such techniques could be used to investigate the importance of different sources of faecal contamination of drinking-water. This in turn could help manage the safety of rural water sources like wells and rainwater and better protect drinking-water stored in the home from contamination through livestock.
Because this complex problem requires a wide range of expertise, during the project we will strength our academic team to include more disciplines, particularly specialists in child health and social sciences. The tools for identifying hazards from livestock will be made widely available at the end of the project and UK expertise in the microbiological laboratory techniques will be shared with Kenyan collaborators. The experience gained will be used to build up contacts and develop a plan and team for a larger-scale study of livestock hazards, water contamination, and diarrhoeal disease risk in several countries.