Posted on June 11, 2021
“I realised that many health issues in South Africa can be better tackled by focusing on the health of animals with a transdisciplinary approach; this will have a positive effect on human health,” says Dr Aqil Jeenah (27), a One Health lecturer who details why he is focused on promoting the concept for the betterment of society.
Dr Aqil Jeenah tells Tukkievaria more about the concept of One Health, why it may be the answer to society’s complex problems, and why his involvement in it was almost inevitable.
What are your educational qualifications and background?
I grew up in Pretoria and attended Pretoria Boys High School. I graduated from the University of Pretoria (UP) in 2018 as a veterinarian, and am currently working towards two master’s degrees. The first should be completed by the end of 2021 and is an MSc in Veterinary Science at UP. The second, which will be completed in the middle of 2022, is an MSc in One Health; I am doing this degree through the University of Edinburgh.
Please explain the concept of One Health in simple terms.
One Health promotes the link between human, animal and environmental health. The previous way of working, within silos of these health spheres, is not conducive to solving health problems in the 21st century. One Health champions the idea that in order to confront these health challenges, people need to work in a transdisciplinary fashion, whereby shared resources and skills and the utilisation of different mindsets will lead to a better outcome.
What sort of work do you do in the One Health field?
UP’s Faculty of Veterinary Science recently hired me as a full-time lecturer in One Health. I work to promote the concept and a transdisciplinary approach across the University, through research and education of undergraduates and postgraduates. I am investigating the One Health orientation of the Faculty of Veterinary Science and the University as a whole. I am also investigating the economic burden of brucellosis [a bacterial disease that mainly affects cattle, swine, goats, sheep and dogs] in humans and animals. In addition, I am looking into the prevalence of different zoonotic diseases found in both animals and humans at various socioeconomic levels.
Why is One Health important?
In the 21st century, there are multiple new challenges that need a new approach to achieve optimal health. For example, 75% of all new infectious disease found in humans have their origin in animals. This is due to a combination of various things: a growing global population; people moving into urban areas and not practising good hygiene; as well as encroachment into forest areas, which is causing animals that previously wouldn’t have encountered one another to come into contact, as well as humans coming into contact with these animals. Climate change is also causing loss of biodiversity, which is further exasperated by the need for electricity that comes from non-renewable resources, especially in low-income countries.
To solve this complex problem, people from the health, economic, animal health and biodiversity sectors, among others, need to come together to come up with solutions that acknowledge that each intervention that solves one problem will have a positive or negative effect on other aspects of the problem.
What sparked your interest in One Health?
My interest in the concept came about because of my upbringing. My mum is a medical doctor and my dad is an agriculture scientist, and both are involved with the Department of Health. As such, the link between human, animal and environmental health was often a topic of conversation at the dinner table. I realised there were common issues between humans and animal health, and that there was a possibility for shared resources. But more so, I realised that many issues – such as nutrition among youth or disease transmission, like rabies in humans – can be better tackled by utilising an integrated approach. Targeting of animal health instead of human health will also be a better use of finances.
It seems certain that your work will have an impact on society. What is your hope for the future?
I hope that my work will benefit society by improving the health of humans through non-traditional methods, and that we will be able to ensure that policymakers can better utilise limited resources in low-income countries.
What are you most passionate about?
I am passionate about increasing the personal connection between various health professionals – the evaluation of the burden of disease of zoonosis on animals and humans and how they might affect the most marginalised in communities.
What advice would you give to young people about helping their communities?
The most important thing is to get out there. Very often, as young people, we feel we have to wait for older, more established members of society to allow us to do something. But younger people have innovative ideas and are able to use technology to make a difference. Don’t feel that you need permission to help and improve your community.
What advice would you give youth about perseverance and overcoming adversity?
Adversities are life’s way of giving you different paths to go down. These paths might land you in a place you’d never imagined, but if you keep going and focusing – and not dwelling on what-ifs – you will be happy and will attain things you might not have been able to attain.
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