In many African countries, livestock farming is an important source of revenue that improves the quality of life and strengthens the development of the economy. Animal health not only has an impact on animal production and its economic consequences, but zoonoses may also have an important impact on public health. Real time surveillance and prompt actions are paramount in diminishing the impact of epizootics on livestock. For this reason, early detection and shortening the time between detection, reporting and providing measures to contain an outbreak is crucial. VGTropics tackles these issues by offering tools and services, which substantially improve animal health recording in developing countries.
VGTropics is the result of the Predict Feasibility Study which was successfully concluded in 2012.
Objectives of the service
VGTropics aims at establishing a service platform to support early detection of livestock diseases, identification of livestock population and related disease outbreak risk, and planning of livestock surveys.
VGTropics services are tailored to African developing countries’ needs and are designed to support international, national and regional animal health monitoring activities.
The development of VGTropics service platform during the project takes into account the user requirements stemming out from the Predict Feasibility Study which are consolidated during the Demonstration Project with the support of the partner users (listed below). The users are also in charge of evaluating VGTropics during the pre-operational stage using the performance indicators and criteria to be defined during the project.
Users’ assessment of VGTropics throughout the demonstration project activities is meant to help the consortium in fine-tuning VGTropics solution with the objective to establish a proved and validated solution ready to be used in the projects undertaken by those users, and to prepare for future commercialization to new potential customers not involved in the demonstration project.
Users and their needs
The consortium identified five potential user groups (UGs), from or operating in developing countries.
UG1 represents state veterinary services that work autonomously and seek to enhance the existing veterinary services.
UG2 are development agencies originating from developed countries, with projects that need additional capacity building input to reach their aim to strengthen National Veterinary Services.
UG3 consists of NGOs. NGO projects differ from those in UG2 because their infrastructure and veterinary service networks still rely foremost on the NGO rather than on the networks of the respective governments. Hence they need more strengthening and capacity building.
UG4 includes international agencies like for instance the FAO and OIE. UG5 includes industrial companies.
The following users have signed a user agreement and actively participate to the VGTropics demonstration project:
- USER 1: Senegal – The Direction des Services Vétérinaires (DSV) is testing the VGTropics System and Services as part of the animal health surveillance activities of the veterinary department, using the existing SIGEL system as a data entry tool.
- USER 2: Zambia – The Global Health Academy of the University of Edinburgh, together with the State Veterinary Services of Zambia, is testing the VGTropics System and Services as part of its Livestock Development work in Zambia. Particular attention is given to the use of the VetAfrica app, developed by Cojengo (Glasgow, UK), as a source for animal health information.
- USER 3: Uganda – Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium (VSF-BE), together with the State Veterinary Services of Uganda, is testing the VGTropics System and Services as part of their livestock development activities. Particular attention is given to the use of ZAK tool ( Zootechnical Analysis Kit, developed by VSF-Belgium and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund), for the community based monitoring of herd dynamics, herd fertility and herd exploitation.
- USER 4: Niger – The Director General of the Veterinary Department of Niger, supported by VSF-BE, is testing the VGTropics System and Services as part their epidemio-surveillance work. Here also particular attention is given to the use of ZAK , for the community based monitoring of herd dynamics, herd fertility and herd exploitation.
- USER 5: Cape Verde – Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Portugal (VSF-PT) together with the State Veterinary Service of Cape Verde, is testing the VGTropics System and Services as part of its work on syndromic surveillance of dogs and cats in Cape Verde.
Service/ system concept
The VGTropics service platform provides the following services:
Livestock survey planning service automatically generates maps indicating the location and livestock sampling period required for accurate assessment of the cattle distribution over a given geographical area. The sampling generation is based on previous survey results in combination with environmental factors provided by EO satellites.
Livestock distribution service provides a map showing the modelled distribution of the livestock on a countrywide scale with associated accuracy indicators. The service uses meteorological and environmental factors including temperature and vegetation indices provided by EO satellites. SatEO data provided by TERRA-MODIS is planned to be used in the demonstration project; alternative or complementary SatEO data (e.g.: Spot, NOAA-AVHRR) will be considered during the demo project and may be integrated in the system depending on technical and cost trade-offs.
Data analysis service provides access to geo-referenced symptom and disease data collected in the VGTropics central repository. Information is collected from local veterinary departments and crisis teams who use GPS units or smartphones equipped with GPS localization functionality in order to provide geographical coordinates of the investigated cases. Communication from crisis teams deployed into remote areas to the central data repository is provided by Satellite based telecommunication services. The INMARSAT BGAN system is planned to be integrated in the service platform.
The service supports data retrieval from authorized users (e.g.: national or regional centres, NGOs, etc.) who use this information to perform coordinative or preventive actions.
Syndromic Surveillance Service generates warnings of potential animal diseases based on the spatial / temporal analysis of animal symptoms collected through the data collection service, and or additional data sources.
The service produces a map that indicates hotspots of increased occurrence of disease symptoms, which is used as indication of suspected disease occurrences. The risk of disease spread over a geographical area is then calculated based on the modelled livestock distribution provided by the Livestock distribution service.
Space Added Value
Satellite Navigation is an essential part of the VGTropics Data Collection/Analysis service to localise the livestock cases under investigation as suspected cases of disease manifestation.
GPS units or smartphones with GPS functionality are either already in place or will be procured for the VGTropics System.
Satellite based telecommunication services are required to ensure connectivity between crisis teams (deployed in case of suspected diseases’ manifestation to collect animal symptoms and disease information) and national/international centres in charge of assessing the risk of disease outbreak and coordinating mitigation actions.
Mobile Crisis Teams will use procured terminals to set up the network.
Satellite Earth Observation is an essential part of the VGTropics Livestock Survey and Distribution services, providing area-wide variables for livestock distribution models, as livestock husbandry is closely linked to environmental factors.
Currently no tools have been identified which enable the cost-effective planning of livestock surveys. In most cases, livestock surveys are executed based on randomly selected locations over a subset of regions and municipalities. This approach results into poor information on livestock distribution, this being a critical issue to perform effective assessments of the risk of disease dissemination over national/international geographic areas in case of animal disease occurrences.
Furthermore, currently no integrated solution exists to manage animal health data from the field until the central level.
VGTropics tackles these issues by establish an integrated system for animal health monitoring from data collection to data analysis and decision making, which will help the clients to improve disease control and maximise animal health and export of animal products.
The VGTropics architecture consists of the following subsystems:
Data collection and analysis subsystem: This component provides the functionalities to collect in-situ geo-referenced livestock enumerations, animal disease and symptom data into a central database. Data is provided by local veterinary officers as part of their routine work and is entered via a computer or smartphone and transferred electronically via internet (hardwired or wireless broadband access) to the central database. Satellite navigation is used to georeference all data.
Data communication network: This component provides the local, crisis and coordination teams access to the VGTropics service platform. Data communication is provided by terrestrial communication networks or by satellite based telecommunication networks that is required to provide crisis teams access to the VGTropics database when deployed in remote areas not covered by terrestrial communication means.
Livestock survey subsystem: This component produces maps indicating the location and livestock sampling period required for accurate assessment of the cattle distribution over a given geographical area. The livestock survey subsystem uses as inputs previous survey results combined with meteorological and environmental factors, temperature and vegetation indices provided by earth observation satellites.
The livestock survey subsystem is also to be used by the central team to create livestock survey strategies. Results from the livestock survey can be shared with the VGTropics consortium that can provide livestock distribution maps (see Livestock Distribution subsystem) to the central team.
The Livestock Distribution subsystem: This component provides maps depicting the probability/abundance of livestock. The system uses as input in-situ livestock enumerations stored in the VGTropics database which are modelled over national / regional areas taking into account meteorological and environmental information provided by earth observation satellites.
The Syndromic Surveillance subsystem: This component compares reported syndrome data collected in the VGTropics database to the baseline expected symptoms in order to identify deviations that may indicate disease occurrences.
Maintaining active or passive animal disease detection and notification systems in African countries remains difficult and should be facilitated and reinforced by sustainable means. Monitoring animal health status and identification of potential diseases is done typically through laboratory analysis. In large proportions of these African countries access to laboratories for diagnostic purposes is however very limited, and available diagnostic tests are typically too expensive. Moreover, results may be unreliable due to poor conservation status of reagents or obsolete diagnostic tools.
Coordinated information sharing on symptom and disease cases is currently not guaranteed by the systems in use by most of the African countries addressed by the consortium: in case of disease outbreak, such effective information exchange is key to perform actions to limit the spread of diseases and their impact on animal health and production.
User needs and requirements have been consolidated and endorsed by the users involved in the project.
Based on the user requirements, the system requirements have been defined.
The service platform has been developed and was demonstrated following a step-wise approach with a first release addressing data collection and performance services followed by a second and full service release including the syndromic surveillance alerting services.
Demonstration activities of alerting, data collection and performance services started with all users between October and November 2014 and ran continuously to update surveillance reports. Demonstration activities of the syndromic surveillance alerting services started in February 2015.
A set of training materials was developed including manuals, tutorials, videos and additional exercises and were made available through the on-line learning platform.
VGTropics services were tailored and expanded based on users' experiences during the demonstration.
After the syndromic surveillance pilot, the system's performance was evaluated.
VGTropics users have been interviewed to collect final comments. Based on these comments key areas were identified in which further development of the system will occur in the future, including:
- A series of predefined database queries, accessible from within the GIS desktop application to generate tabular data and maps.
- Thematic spatial layers that can be added to a project and clipped from worldwide remote sensing data that are included with the license.
- A mapping wizard that guides the user through data selection and symbology options.
Using the data collection platforms and tools for analysis of field data that have been introduced during the two workshops, the users have been able to support their respective case studies and improve reporting activities both in efficiency and number of outputs.
The project was completed at the end of 2015, and currently Avia-GIS is starting the commercialisation of VGTropics
In commercializing VGTropics, strong focus will be put on offering additional training so the customers can make full use of advanced VGTropics functionalities. Also basic GIS trainings will be added to the list of products, preparing the market to buy VGTropics and hereby unlocking the possibilities of mobile data collection, central data storage and benefits that go with these technologies. The market will be penetrated through governmental departments as they fund projects within for example NGOs. Such organisations will be targeted on a country by country basis.
Other services that will be offered include making modifications to the generic database model to suit specific needs and delivering advanced spatial data analysis products based on the customer’s data. Both services depend on the specific requirements set by the customer.