Women in Ghana achieving equal access to livestock vaccines
Millions of women livestock owners lose a significant number of their animals to preventable diseases every year due to cultural beliefs, a lack of education and poor technological services. The Women Rear Project is on a mission to ensure that women can access the vaccinations they need to help secure their livelihoods.
More than 3 million farmers and their families in Ghana depend on livestock for food and income, but these animals are regularly afflicted by preventable diseases. “A Newcastle disease outbreak can result in the death of eight out of 10 chickens, while PPR [peste des petits ruminants] can result in the death of seven out of 10 goats,” revealed Agnes Loriba from the Women Rear project in Ghana during a recent IDRC event.
“Goats and chickens are key livestock for women’s livelihoods, yet these animals suffer the highest mortality rates as women participate least in animal vaccination,” she continued. “Less than 20% of farmers that vaccinate their animals are women.”
The Women Rear project is a collaborative initiative between Care International in Ghana, the International Livestock Research Institute, and Cowtribe Technology, a Ghanaian start-up that aims to reach women livestock owners with animal vaccinations and encourage women to take up a greater role in vaccination practice. The project is supported by the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund (LVIF), a partnership between Global Affairs Canada, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and IDRC.
Understanding the obstacles
Why aren’t women vaccinating their livestock? Several factors are at play.
Firstly, traditional and cultural beliefs limit women in Ghana from accessing vaccines, asking a male veterinarian to vaccinate their animals or participating as animal health service providers. For instance, male farmers and male animal health service providers believe that women animal health service providers are incapable of delivering vaccinations or strong enough to restrain the animals during the vaccine process. “Men animal health service providers deliberately do not target women with vaccines,” explained Loriba.
“Sharifa [one of the project’s female veterinarians] was surprised to learn that in some communities there is a cultural belief that when a woman is menstruating and visits an animal pen, the animals are likely to die, or that their eggs may subsequently not hatch,” Loriba continued. These convictions inhibit women from taking up roles as animal health service providers or vets.
Secondly, the lack of refrigeration facilities, particularly in rural communities, makes it difficult for animal health service providers to access and store vaccines. Even when there are fridges, intermittent electricity supply makes them an unreliable form of storage.
Lastly, women are rarely motivated to seek out and acquire vaccines, even when they are aware of them. “They don’t engage in selling the animals they keep,” explained Loriba, “so if they don’t control their income, why should they vaccinate?”
Having a jab at change
To encourage women’s participation in vaccination programs, the project has been taking the following four approaches:
- Working with communities and traditional leaders to better understand cultural and traditional practices and to determine how they can influence change. For example, participatory sessions comprising over 3,000 individuals have shed light on the cultural attitudes restricting women.
- Recruiting two female vaccinators (thus far) to vaccinate animals and gain an understanding of the potential of having women reach other women. These vaccinators are supported by 105 women “lead farmers” or animal health service providers who help mobilize other women and deliver vaccines to group members.
- Investing in solar refrigeration facilities for vaccines.
- Rolling out a vaccine delivery app through Cowtribe that enables women and men farmers to access vaccinations. Farmers can register to have their animals vaccinated, while animal health service providers can use the technology to manage the vaccination schedule and logistics. The app also sends voice messages (recorded in local languages) to farmers about the benefits of vaccination to help enhance awareness and encourage uptake.
In the two years since interventions began, “Changes and shifts in traditional and cultural practices have been occurring,” stated Loriba. “Sharifa now feels more accepted as a female vet in the community and is seeing men being more supportive of their wives in getting their animals vaccinated.”
In a project survey conducted in March 2022, 91% of women livestock keepers stated being satisfied with the performance of women animal health service providers, stating that they received better advice and access to vaccines than they had previously from men animal health service providers.
The app has also proven hugely successful. Since December 2020, 4,000 women have registered with the vaccine app and more than 10,000 vaccines doses have been delivered through it annually. In addition to the app, Cowtribe has been recruiting veterinary graduates and training existing men and women animal health service providers about the barriers prohibiting women from securing vaccinations for their animals.
Finally, solar refrigeration has helped reduce the amount of vaccine wastage by one-third to just 8%.
To ensure vaccine delivery systems account for women’s needs and are more equitable, not only in Ghana but elsewhere, the Women Rear team have three key recommendations: to sensitize men and women vets and animal health service providers; to deliberately target women with vaccines and attract them to veterinary training institutions; and to improve the vaccine cold chain by partnering with the private sector. As Loriba noted, “Hopefully, these changes will occur for every livestock keeper, not only in Ghana, but across Africa.”