Ashley Railey (fourth from left) with members of the Serengeti survey team (back, l-r) Loserian
Ole Maoi, Emmanuel Sindoya, Isaya Ole Seki, and (front) Victor Sianga.

“Notes from the Field,” a biannual column in The Global Health Perspective, features personal accounts by Allen School scientists and gives a first-hand glimpse of the work they are doing to help the lives of people and their animals.

Using Household Surveys to Understand Disease Control

by Ashley Railey, doctoral student in the Allen School

Habari za asubuhi dada (good morning sister)! It is a little before 7:00 in the morning and the survey team slowly starts appearing at my residence ready to start another day in the field. The driver helps me load the charged computers, extra batteries, backup paper surveys, the paper visual aids, GPS devices, and peanut butter and jelly bag lunches into the car. Today we have a two-hour drive to the border of Tanzania and Kenya where we will ask 25 households to complete surveys.

Our research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Program for Enhancing the Health and Productivity of Livestock, addresses the socioeconomic conditions, such as a household’s livestock keeping practices and education level, that contribute to infectious disease. We are performing surveys on smallholder farmer willingness to pay for emerging control options for foot and mouth disease in cattle. It is one of numerous diseases prevalent in Tanzanian livestock, and one of the most economically damaging and contagious. Hooved animals like cattle, sheep, and goats become infected with lesions on the mouth, feet, or mammary glands resulting in production losses, miscarriages caused by the disease, and even death in young animals. Because cattle provide income for many Tanzanian households from milk and animal sales, in addition to draught power for farming, foot and mouth disease can have severe economic effects on the smallholder farmer.

Which is what brings us to the border of Tanzania and Kenya today. Njoroy is one of ten randomly selected villages in Northern Tanzania where we are collecting household survey data. Each day team members will complete approximately 5–6 surveys, taking anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on the household. Today, I go along with Loserian, a Masaai enumerator who will help me understand the exchange by translating from Maa into Swahili or English.

As I walk with Loserian and one of the community members commissioned to introduce us to households, we discuss the challenges facing Tanzanian cattle owners. Both men own cattle and have had to adjust their pastoralist practices to address an evolving world. Once they owned many cattle that could roam the land freely, but lands are disappearing and efficient productivity is more important. The men discuss the importance of keeping livestock healthy because a family can no longer rely on having hundreds more cattle to fill the spot of one dying. They tell me that foot and mouth disease is particularly challenging because the available treatments do not work, and their livestock continue to become infected. Hearing this without even using a survey to probe for answers, it becomes apparent that while they live with the disease, that does not mean they would not jump at a chance to cure it if possible.

This is what qualitative data and surveys provide us with, an insight into the everyday lives of the people and decision-making process. It is one thing to create a vaccine knowing it provides accurate results, but an entirely different thing for people to use the vaccine. The surveys help identify the factors influencing willingness to pay for vaccinations and diagnostic testing, but the conversations in between the surveys help us understand the people behind those decisions.

Ashley Railey, a doctoral student in the Allen School, spent three months in Tanzania collecting data to assess whether farmers are willing to pay for vaccinations and diagnostic testing for foot and mouth disease in cattle. Railey spent six months taking classes at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania before conducting surveys for basic household demographics, livestock movements, and household willingness to pay for disease control methods. She also taught survey participants about the complexity of the disease through visual aids and discussions.