Young student carries torch for UP OneHealth on international board

UP undergraduate Aqil Jeenah cares about animals and humans, and the impact climate change has on their environment. Despite his youth, his work already helps bring health, veterinary and ecological disciplines together to solve global health challenges.

Aqil Jeenah is a passionate young student working towards a degree in the UP Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort. He is currently positioned as a student representative on the board of the One Health Commission, and is part of the World Veterinary Association Zoonotic Disease Working Group.

“For me, the basic definition for One Health is the combination of human, animal, and environmental health and how one has an effect on all the others,” explains Jeenah.

One Health refers to an internationally-recognised approach to solving health problems by combining the skills of medical doctors, veterinarians, ecologists, environmentalists and various other specialist disciplines to strike a balance between wildlife conservation, natural resource use, farming, animal disease control and human health.

The UP Faculty of Veterinary Science incorporates One Health thinking into its official curricula, and the University is working towards creating institution-wide training at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Says Jeenah: “For me, it is a lot more about collaboration and the mindset that not just healthcare professionals, but everyone in general, should be helping to address specific health-related and other problems. I would go as far as saying that even a psychologist and a sociologist can work on One Health.”

Jeenah is not without a solid foundation to make this assertion: his mother is a medical doctor and his father an agricultural scientist.

“Growing up, there was a lot of medicine and science at home. We had some pets and that's where the love of veterinary science started,” he says. “Going through to grades 11 and 12, it came down to choosing between medicine or veterinary science, and I felt that I could do a lot more as a vet.

Today, Jeenah is well-versed in the One Health concept and applying it as a way to approach other problems in science through collaborations between unlikely fields. In addition to medicine and veterinary science, environmental impacts such as the effects of climate change are close to his heart.

“There is a lot of impact that we don't speak about very often when it comes to climate change,” he says. “There are knock-on effects, not being discussed much, but they are all One Health-related.”

“One Health, for me, is not a single project. It is actually the mindset through which you approach your problem as a vet,” he says. He explains that when treating a dog, for instance, it is also important to think of the humans involved, and the environment that the animal and human shares.

Jeenah’s involvement with One Health has seen him travel to over 40 countries giving lectures, workshops, and conference talks to professionals and students. He previously sat on the Executive Committee of the International Veterinary Students’ Association (IVSA), as well as being a part of the IVSA Standing Committee on One Health.

Aqil Jeenah is a student representative on the board of the One Health Commission, and is part of the World Veterinary Association Zoonotic Disease Working Group.