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Data collection in Uganda: One goat at a time, rain or shine

by Rogers Adiba, Mercy Corps Uganda ◊

To show impact later, you need to measure what you have at the start. Simple enough. However, conducting research in remote areas requires a diligent team effort and dedication.

Amidst the challenges of heavy rains, broken bridges, bad roads, unreliable electricity and mobile network coverage, and the ever mobile and shifting kraal and herds, dedicated teams managed to collect data from 545 persons and their livestock in May and June 2018.

The Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) Vaccine Associate Award, which is part of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, conducted its baseline study in selected districts of the remote Karamoja sub region in Northern Uganda. For the survey’s two components, teams collected sociocultural information from the community and serological information from sheep and goats.

Herders in Loyoro, Kaabong district (credit: R. Adiba)

Training and Preparation

As a first step, in early May 2018 researchers from the University of Florida trained six local enumerators (three Karamojong and three Pokot speakers) on research ethics, data collection principles and tablet usage to administer the survey. The purpose of the sociocultural study was to expand understanding of the contexts (for example, women’s empowerment, livestock disease burden, and vaccination practices) that affect adoption of the vaccine. Researchers used an abbreviated Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (A-WEAI) to gain localized knowledge pertinent to understanding the livestock sector and household decisions on livestock.

At the same time, the team from Makerere University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB) prepared for the task ahead: collection of more than 1,000 sheep and goat blood samples to determine the antibody levels against PPR. This vital information helps researchers understand how much PPR is circulating and it compares this data to information collected after vaccination at the end of the project.

Working Together

Starting on May 14, two field teams spent five weeks collecting data — no matter the conditions. Each team of five was comprised of three enumerators, a CoVAB graduate student or technician from the Karamoja Veterinary Laboratory, and a field supervisor from Mercy Corps or Tufts University. The teams collected household data and animal blood samples from 50 randomly computer-generated GPS points in the three target sub counties of Nakapelimoru, Kotido District, Loyoro, Kaabong District, and Loroo, Amudat District. Every day, in each randomly selected site, teams completed at least 10 household surveys, 2 A-WEAI tools, and 28 blood samples from sheep and goats from randomly selected herds. The sampling exercise drew large crowds with several young herders volunteering to assist. While interacting with them, the team members shared information about PPR and what to do when encountering new cases. At the end of each day, all completed survey tools were uploaded to the server while the blood samples were processed and kept refrigerated. The sero-survey team and field supervisors coordinated with other livestock keepers for the sampling activity in their community for the next day.

Amidst many challenges, 339 men and 226 women were interviewed and 104 A-WEAI tools completed. Also, 1,400 blood samples were collected and are currently being analyzed.