Making TB science available to end users
The control and eradication of bovine tuberculosis (TB) from New Zealand wildlife has been based on strong scientific foundations. However, often this science has only been appreciated by a small group of TB managers and researchers.
This is because the research has been widely published across scientific journals that are often (for copyright reasons) not readily available to end-users and the public, and the articles themselves are not easily comprehensible to the general public. In addition, a lot of the research is not formally published and exists only in the so-called ‘grey literature’ such as reports produced by various institutions and agencies, and is not easily found. Thus, the funders of the National Pest Management Plan for TB (NPMP) and their stakeholders (which includes the public) have at times found it difficult to independently assess the depth and robustness of wildlife TB science, particularly when faced with strategic choices about the future direction of the NPMP.
The opaqueness of the evidence underpinning TB control and eradication was raised as an issue during the second review of the NPMP in 2008–2009. Given that the next review was scheduled for about 2015, in 2010 Graham Nugent proposed the collation and synthesis of contemporary wildlife-related TB research into a single comprehensive and more accessible publication. TBfree New Zealand (then the Animal Health Board) strongly supported the idea, with Paul Livingstone in particular championing the cause and arranging the funding required to support the work. Although the original proposal was for a multi-chapter book, the project team soon decided on the alternative of a series of scientific papers published in an open access formal journal, as this ensured that the work would be subject to rigorous and independent peer review, and more importantly, that the published material would be accessible to everyone via the internet.
The authors for this work were assembled in 2011 and comprised 19 leading authorities on wildlife TB from seven different organisations around the world. In addition to writing and editorial input from Graham and Paul, the authors were given editorial assistance by Phil Cowan and Frank Cross and supported by the editorial team of the New Zealand Veterinary Journal (NZVJ), Petra Muellner and Fiona Rhodes. The outcome has been a 108-page Special Issue on ‘TB in Wildlife’ published in the NZVJ in July 2015 (available here). With many of the contributing papers available online since late 2014 this publication has, as intended, provided the scientific information underpinning the recently-completed 2015 review of the NPMP for TB.
The NZVJ Special Issue comprises nine review, overview and research-themed papers, covering aspects of wildlife TB management such as policy and strategic practices, tactical approaches to the control of infected wildlife populations, understanding the roles of the various vector species in TB transmission, the impact of wildlife management on livestock, and the use of ecoepidemiological modelling in wildlife TB management. An important feature of the NZVJ Special Issue is that it has identified and drawn upon the ‘hidden’ TB science in the ‘grey literature’, such as previously unpublished project reports produced by Landcare Research and other institutions – these reports are not only cited, but most of them have now been made available online here.
The NZVJ Special Issue complements a related special issue on ‘Dealing with TB in Wildlife’ published by the international journal Epidemiology & Infection in 2013 (some articles Open Access). The special issue of this latter journal had a broader global focus and comprised mostly primary research papers rather than comprehensive reviews and overviews. New Zealand research on TB in possums and other wildlife was represented in that publication by three research papers.
As a result of evaluations based largely on the formal research presented in the NZVJ Special Issue, no concerns were raised by the high-level stakeholder group leading the 2014–15 review of the NPMP about the accessibility and robustness of the science used to evaluate alternative strategic options. They commissioned what was effectively a ‘review of the reviews’ (see Peter Caley’s article in this issue) that used the Special Issue as its primary feedstock, and concluded that there was enough scientific evidence to believe that eradication of TB from wildlife was feasible. Based on that, NPMP funders have had the confidence to recommend, for the first time, adoption of nationwide biological eradication of bovine TB from New Zealand as the NPMP goal.
More information on the NPMP review is found in supporting documents and general review here.