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How Cow Vaccinations Can Help Send Kids to School in Sub-Saharan Africa

Vaccinating livestock saves a substantial amount of money that can be put to other uses, economists find.

By Nathan Collins


(Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Cattle vaccines rarely figure into most of our lives here in the United States, but in sub-Saharan Africa, where vastly more people work on farms, the choice whether or not to vaccinate could have significant consequences for cattle farmers. In fact, choosing to vaccinate cattle could indirectly help send more kids to school, according to a new study.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, more than half the population is engaged in small-scale farming,” and the majority of those farmers keep at least some livestock, Thomas L. Marsh and his colleagues at Washington State University write today in Science Advances. “For the more than 50 million African pastoralists for whom livestock raising is the primary economic activity, livestock play an even greater role in economic and food security.”

With that in mind, Marsh and his colleagues wondered whether a basic protection for livestock—vaccination against East Coast fever (ECF), a tick-borne disease and leading killer of young African cattle—would have implications beyond the health of the animals themselves. To find out, the researchers surveyed several hundred households in southern Kenya to see whether they vaccinated their livestock, whether doing so saved them money, and, if so, what they did with those savings.

For each additional cow vaccinated, the average household spent 406 Ksh more on education.

First, it’s notable that only 15 percent of cattle were vaccinated, so that, in an average herd of 66 cattle, only about 10 had been given a shot to protect against ECF.

That’s despite a number of financial benefits: fewer sick cows that had to be treated with antibiotics, fewer dead cattle, and increased milk production. For instance, a 1 percent increase in the number of vaccinated animals increased milk production by about 0.08 percent. That adds up to about 97 liters per year, or, at 45 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) per liter, about 4,400 Ksh each year.

When people did vaccinate livestock and realize such savings, the money tended to go toward education. For each additional cow vaccinated, Marsh and his colleagues found, the average household spent 406 Ksh more on education, an increase of a little less than 1 percent. What’s more, the more cattle a household vaccinated, the more likely its girls and boys were to attend school.

Vaccinations also led families to spend more on food, but, curiously, there was no discernible effect on (human) health-care spending—although that may have more to do with the dynamics of health-care spending than anything else, the authors write.