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[NAIROBI] A new initiative has been launched to address the many diseases affecting livestock in the developing world.

The Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) aims to develop new vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for livestock. The initiative was formally launched in Nairobi, Kenya last week (9 March).

Samuel Thevasagayam, director of research and development at GALVmed, said the initiative would bring researchers, research institutions, universities and pharmaceutical companies together to produce new diagnostic tests, vaccines, and pharmaceutical products as well as improving ones already on the market.

GALVmed chief executive Steve Sloan said that the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has already given around US$3.85 million to cover the initial start-up costs until March 2008. A further US$100 million is required for the rest of the ten-year initiative.

US$700,000 of the DFID funding will be spent on vaccine development, which will look specifically at diseases affecting the livestock of poor farmers, says Sloan.

"We are looking at producing fresh vaccines, but will also be seeking to improve the ones that are on the market but have proved ineffective in combating livestock diseases," Sloan added.

According to Thevasagayam, thirteen diseases have been identified for the initiative so far, including Rift Valley Fever.

Two of the first GALVmed projects are being established in Kenya. One aims to make a vaccine for Newcastle disease — an infectious bird virus — that is stable at high temperatures and available to small-scale backyard poultry farmers. 

A second project will look at preventing East Coast Fever, which kills more than one million cattle a year, causing losses of over US$200 million in eastern and southern Africa.

Kenya's minister for Livestock and Fisheries Development, Joseph Munyao, told SciDev.Net: "For many of the diseases that primarily affect livestock kept by the poor in developing countries, the vaccines, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics currently available are far from ideal. In too many cases, effective vaccines and diagnostics are totally absent."

He added that new ways for poor farmers to access products are needed if the benefits of cutting-edge science are to be harnessed for the benefit of all livestock farmers and consumers