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Empowering and engaging women in livestock vaccine value chains in East Africa


Every year, millions of women livestock holders face financial and animal losses when diseases sweep through their farms. These infections are often highly preventable with a simple vaccination, so what is preventing women from taking measures to protect their assets?

Worldwide, more than 750 million people keep livestock as a source of income, 400 million of them women. However, animal diseases, such as Newcastle disease in chickens and peste des petits ruminants (PPR) in goats, create widespread devastation. Women are disproportionately affected because, for numerous reasons, they are less likely than men to be able to access vaccines to prevent such losses.

To tackle this gender imbalance, a regional livestock vaccine initiative in East Africa called SheVax+ was launched in 2019 with support from IDRC, Global Affairs Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund (LVIF)

Barriers to livestock vaccine uptake

During a recent IDRC event, Hellen Amuguni, the principal investigator for SheVax+ and an associate professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, revealed three primary barriers to livestock vaccine uptake among women smallholder livestock farmers in East Africa.

The first is that gender norms mean women have less access to information on vaccinations, animal health and livestock management. Stereotypes affect the way women’s capabilities as farmers are viewed, so they are not directly targeted by information campaigns. Power relations also mean some women require permission from the male household head to attend training or control livestock-related resources. As a result, many women lack understanding around the availability and importance of vaccines, while those who do have awareness may be prevented from acting upon it.

The second is a lack of cold chain vaccine storage. “In most places in rural Africa, there’s no refrigeration due to an absence of electricity,” Amuguni noted. “Even in big cities, agro-vets take their vaccines out of the refrigerator at night and put them in a cool box with ice as power disappears.” 

Finally, there is a significant shortage of animal health service providers. In Machakos, Kenya, for example, there is only one animal health service provider for 30,000 households, when ideally there would be one for every 3,000 households. “Each animal health service provider in Machakos is facing an impossible task,” Amuguni emphasized.

She highlighted the impacts of livestock diseases on women’s livelihoods, reaffirming the urgency and significance of SheVax+’s work. “Two and a half years ago, we met Alice. She had lost all 17 of her chickens to Newcastle disease and her neighbours had suffered the same fate. In Uganda, we met Rosa, a widow and mother of five who had lost all 12 of her goats to PPR and she was unable to pay her son’s school fees.”

To help women overcome these obstacles, SheVax+ specifically targets women as animal health service providers and small livestock owners. The initiative trains and equips local animal health service providers on vaccination processes and creates a local source of vaccines by introducing solar-based refrigerators and enhancing women’s access to livestock vaccines. This, in turn, increases vaccination demand and closes the gender gap.

Tools such as vaccination calendars are being used to educate women about animal vaccines and how to access them.
SheVax+ Project
Tools such as vaccination calendars are being used to educate women about animal vaccines and how to access them.

Moving the goalposts

To encourage greater vaccination uptake among women and support their long-term livelihood prospects, SheVax+ established a multi-pronged approach to develop a women-centred livestock vaccine private sector delivery system.

In light of non-existent or unreliable electricity sources, the organization is rolling-out solar-powered fridges. So far, they’ve installed 30 across Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. “Solar is climate-resilient, environmentally-friendly, reliable, and accessible to all,” Amuguni stated.

To overcome the lack of animal health service providers, SheVax+ is training and equipping local women with livestock drugs and vaccines and providing solar-powered fridges for vaccine cold storage. “Currently, 24 women have been trained across three countries to provide vaccination and animal health-related services to 140,000 farming households,” said Amuguni. “This equates to one animal health service provider for every 6,000 farming households, a five-fold improvement on the previous ratio.” 

The project creates entrepreneurial opportunities for women by providing them with a valuable source of income and the capability to move into vaccine distribution and manufacturing. Across Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, women animal health service providers make USD50-300 per month (approx. CAD69-412) depending on the country’s economy and labour rates. To put this into context, Amuguni shared, “a Rwandan family of four needs USD25 [approx. CAD34] to purchase health insurance for an entire year.”

Education is another crucial area, and SheVax+ and its partners are “aggressively providing women with information on where to access vaccines and veterinary services,” revealed Amuguni. This is being achieved with tools such as vaccination calendars (more than 1,200 have been distributed in English, Swahili, and Kinyarwanda), educational comic books in English and Kinyarwanda, and animated videos.

But SheVax+ is not only training women. To change beliefs and behaviours that affect women’s decision-making regarding vaccine use, access to training and livestock ownership, men are also being educated. So far, 40 male “role models” have been selected to help raise awareness around cultural and traditional stereotypes and to advocate for women’s roles in livestock vaccination. Meetings have also been held with stakeholders, such as regional government officials and vaccine producers, to discuss the challenges affecting women’s access to vaccinations and what can be done to overcome them.

The SheVax+ initiative shows that, with vaccine awareness and availability, women are willing to pay for health services to protect their animals. With 400 million women livestock keepers globally, “imagine what impact we’d have if vaccine services were provided to just a tenth of them,” Amuguni stated.

Read about the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the livestock sector

Learn more about the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund