Researchers from around the world will study new ways to tackle the widespread and debilitating disease epizootic lymphangitis (EZL), which significantly impacts horses, donkeys, and mules, as well as human livelihoods.

The project—being conducted by researchers from Brooke, the University of Liverpool, SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad), and the Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust—will involve large-scale field research in Ethiopia, The Gambia, and Senegal.

A highly contagious fungal infection, EZL primarily affects horses but also can impact donkeys and mules. Clinical signs normally include skin nodules and abscesses along the neck and limbs that can erupt and discharge a thick yellow pus. This causes swelling and lameness, swollen glands, and, in some cases, eye and respiratory disease.

The disease spreads easily when a vulnerable animal contacts other infected animals or equipment. Although humans are not at risk of contracting the infection, the impact of a family’s equid becoming ill can be catastrophic.

Humans rely on the majority of horses, donkeys, and mules in Sub-Saharan Africa for working purposes. If illness stops them from carrying loads or pulling carts for agriculture or transport purposes, the dependent family’s income can suffer significantly.

While Britain (and many other developed countries) is EZL-free, the infection is still significantly impacting the lives of equines and dependent owners in low and middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Program funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to the University of Liverpool in 2017, and Brooke and SPANA field staff are part of an international team that will be coordinating sampling and case identification and treatment in Ethiopia and Senegal.

The national Department of Livestock Services, in Gambia, and The Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust are coordinating the research program in that country.

The organizations hope that, by working together, the project will have the capacity to gain a much better understanding of the disease. This aims to have a positive and far reaching benefit for reducing the impact of this disease on local communities, and in supporting regional clinics and laboratories to develop practical strategies for prevention and treatment, they said.

Other organizations contributing expertise and facilities to the project include:

  • The National Veterinary Institute Ethiopia;
  • The Addis Ababa University College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture, in Ethiopia;
  • The histoplasmosis laboratory at The Ohio State University; and
  • The North Carolina State University global health group.

Brooke has operated in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2001, when it began funding programs in Kenya. Since then, the charity has expanded its work to Ethiopia, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. An estimated 13 million equines are currently working across these countries, providing invaluable support to millions of families. Brooke’s mission is to relieve their immediate suffering and create lasting change by working with communities, governments, and policy makers.

SPANA provides free veterinary treatment to working animals in developing countries around the world and operates extensively across Sub-Saharan Africa. The charity began working in Ethiopia in 2002 and has been acting to control EZL spread in the country by treating infected animals, using preventive strategies, and providing education to owners and local vets. Last year, the charity provided more than 11,000 treatments to working animals in Ethiopia.

The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust has two veterinary centers and operates mobile veterinary clinics that provide health care and support for working equines. It aims to provide Gambians with the skills and training to address the problems that are encountered with their working equines through training and capacity building.