Interview with Andrew Soldan of the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s APHA Scientific
If you have read July’s International Animal Health Journal, you will have seen Professor Javier Guitián from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) explain that successful control of brucellosis in developed countries has come about as a result of prolonged vaccination, followed up by an extensive test and slaughter programme.
However, a number of factors restrict the deployment of this strategy across the developing world – which accounts for the ongoing presence of the disease in endemic countries.
We caught up with Andrew Soldan, head of APHA Scientific (part of the UK government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency) to discuss eradication of the disease in the UK, and the challenges faced in controlling brucellosis across endemic areas.
Please could you tell us a little about the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)?
The APHA is part of the UK Government and works to safeguard animal and plant health for the benefit of people, the environment and the economy. We are responsible for a wide range of things, one of which is research and development into animal diseases. We are an OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) reference laboratory for brucellosis and carry out research for the British government looking for better diagnostics for brucellosis.
What is the situation for the UK now in terms of brucellosis?
We’ve eradicated brucellosis but still have an active screening and surveillance system to make sure it doesn’t come back again. There are still some disadvantages with existing diagnostics, even without vaccination, which we have been trying to solve.
What is your experience of diagnostics in developing countries?
I worked in Malawi for five years helping to set up a national epidemiology unit and looking mostly at surveillance systems, diagnostics and appropriate disease control strategies for cattle and poultry. From that time on I’ve maintained an interest in what’s going on in developing countries. I’ve done a lot of work with diagnostics and always had a special interest in tests that can be performed out of the central laboratory. That may be close to the infected farm in an outbreak of notifiable disease in the UK where you’ve got no specialist lab staff and no conventional lab facilities. Some of the technologies appropriate to this ‘resource-poor’ situation may also be very useful in developing countries, where again you’re sometimes effectively just in another resource-poor situation. There are differences obviously, but the same sort of technologies are likely to be useful. We’ve done a lot of work on isothermal amplification, where you can have cheap machines and disposable devices.
What would you say is the biggest challenge in terms of eradicating brucellosis in developing countries?
One of the big challenges is that current vaccines have severe limitations especially in terms of safety and that there are no tests to reliably distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals. In the UK we did eradicate brucellosis using current vaccines, but that required a huge amount of organization, a significant amount of government regulation to enforce vaccination in the middle phase of eradication and then prohibit it later in the process. This had to be coupled with a communication campaign to explain to animal owners the reasons for the regulations at each stage. This was very difficult to do. I think it would be extremely hard to repeat this in the UK now, let alone being able to do it in developing countries. In some situations I think that eradication is an unrealistic goal and disease control to improve animal and human health would be a more appropriate strategy.
What are your thoughts on the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize competition?
I think it’s a fantastic idea; in the discussions I’ve already had with vaccine companies it has created a level of interest which I think is a testament to the fact that it’s already started to have an effect. It’s certainly raised the level of interest within the industry, both the research community and the vaccine companies.