skip to content

An Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge
Cambridge to help tackle bovine tuberculosis in Ethiopia

A group from the University of Cambridge, led by Professor James Wood, Department of Veterinary Medicine, is to be part of a 5-year research project “Ethiopian Control of Bovine Tuberculosis Strategies” (ETHICOBOTS) awarded to a consortium of researchers in Ethiopia and the UK, consisting of epidemiologists, geneticists, immunologists, and social scientists.


Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa including 53 million cattle. A rapidly growing human population (85 million people) and high rate of urbanization give increased challenges on farmers and government to meet the demand for food. Meat is supplied to urban centres through trading of zebu cattle. In contrast, milk production of zebus is poor compared to exotic breeds such as Holstein or their crosses with zebus; zebus alone cannot meet the increased demand for milk and dairy products. An emerging dairy sector in Ethiopia aiming to increase milk supply is however more vulnerable to diseases thriving in intensive husbandry systems. Epidemiological surveys on bovine TB (bTB) in Ethiopian livestock have mapped out relatively low prevalence (0-9%) in the domestic zebu cattle in rural Ethiopia, reared under extensive conditions, while studies of exotic or cross bred cattle in the peri-urban intensive dairy farms in central Ethiopia recorded over 30% tuberculosis prevalence. The impact of such high bTB prevalence could be significant on both animal productivity and public health, especially on high-risk populations exposed to cattle. Expansion of the dairy farm sector and the current centrifugal trade of high value cattle from an area of high bTB prevalence can result in new hotspots of bTB in emerging dairy farm regions around peripheral urban centres. Such trading may also highly affect agro-pastoralists of the Ethiopian highlands, increasing the risk of zoonosis and transmission to their zebu herds.

The main aim of the ETHICOBOTS programme is to tackle the high burden of bovine tuberculosis in the Ethiopian dairy farm sector and to investigate the consequences of the on-going centrifugal trade of potentially infected dairy cattle to low prevalence regions and farming systems on transmission. Sustainable control strategies, including cattle vaccination, will be assessed by mathematical modelling in terms of feasibility, acceptance by farmers, and cost-efficiency in order to find the most suitable intervention options for an evidence-based control policy, mitigating health and livelihood risks for poor households. Experimental, social and economic information gathered in a multi-disciplinary research programme built on six work-packages will be used to assess feasibility, acceptance and cost-efficiency of various bTB control strategies, including cattle vaccination.

The project’s ultimate aim is to minimise the potential impact of disease on poor high risk groups, including dairy farm workers and their families and those at risk as the emergent dairy livestock system continues to expand. This interdisciplinary programme addresses poverty and livelihood issues in relation to bTB in a unique manner and builds on previous studies, considering new breeds of cattle. It will directly assess the efficiency of BCG vaccination of cattle.

Four regions in Ethiopia with high density of dairy farms will be the operational research sites and will be located in the proximity of large urban centres including Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, and Hawassa.

The grant was awarded by the ZELS (Zoonoses & Emerging Livestock Systems) research initiative in the UK, which is jointly funded by six research bodies (BBSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, DfID and Dstl).

The Partners

Institutions that will directly take part in this research project are:

  • Aklilu Lemma Institute of Pathobiology (ALIPB), Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa
  • Armauer Hansen Research Institute (AHRI), Addis Ababa
  • Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), Addis Ababa
  • National Animal Health Diagnostic and Investigation Centre (NAHDIC), Sebeta
  • Departments of Veterinary Medicine and Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK
  • University College London
  • Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA), UK