A proposed levy on horse owners to fund Hendra virus research has been met with opposition in Queensland. It has been suggested that a $25/horse levy in Queensland would provide needed funding for research into this rare but deadly disease, but this has been opposed by some vets and horse owners. One comment in response to the suggestion of a Hendra virus research levy is that the disease kills humans, so it should be publicly funded. However, Hendra only affects humans who have very close contact with horses, so that’s a questionable argument. Also, medical research funding is certainly not overflowing, and the odds of a study such as this getting funded this way may be limited because it is so horse-oriented. I run into the same problem all the time with zoonotic disease research grants. Medical agencies don’t want to fund it because it’s too animal related, while animal agencies don’t want to fund it because it deals more with human health.

Who should fund equine research? Should the government (i.e. all taxpayers) be solely responsible, or should some of the responsibility fall on horse owners, who stand to benefit the most from equine research? This is particularly true for a disease like Hendra that is very rare, currently restricted to one region, and only affects horses and people associated with horses. The rarity of the disease means that industry (e.g. vaccine companies) is probably not eager to fund research (because it would not be profitable). The focal nature of the problem geographically may limit interest from national or international groups. These factors could result in failure to do the necessary research to try to control this deadly disease.

This raises broader questions about funding for equine research. Many people and governments make lots of money from horses, directly or indirectly. You’d like to think that since so much money is made off the backs of horses (both figuratively and in some cases literally), that some of the profits would be put back into helping ensure the health and welfare of these animals. A fraction of a percent of the money generated by horses would be a tremendous asset for equine research, and help make great strides in improving the health and welfare of horses.  Unfortunately, such funding is rarely available, and equine researchers are often very limited in terms of the research that can be done with the available dollars. As a researcher, I know the difficulties of finding enough research funding to pay laboratory personnel and grad students, plus perform high quality research. The limited funding that is available is one reason that equine research is now only a fraction of my overall research program. The equine industry as a whole needs to think about its role in research, even if it’s from a self-serving standpoint whereby research is funded to help boost performance and profits.

This Worms & Germs blog entry was originally posted on equIDblog on 14-Oct-09.