Vets and other experts collaborate for human, animal and environmental health
Recent disease outbreaks like Ebola and bird flu occurred largely because humans and animals share an environment in which disease can spread from one to the other.
Experts and authorities who deal with human health, animal health, and environmental conservation are urged to cooperate to deal with such health crises effectively.
“The problems we face in health are much too complex to be dealt with by a single discipline or a single set of skills,” says Jacques van Rooyen from the Faculty of Veterinary Science’s Centre for Veterinary Wildlife Studies at the University of Pretoria (UP).
“In the past, veterinarians, doctors and ecologists failed to work together in multidisciplinary teams to solve problems and combine interventions, and we need to train them to have a different mind-set.”
See related image in the right sidebar. UP vet students treat a bullock with abscess with help from a Mnisi community member. Working on animal health in context is an important part of the One Health approach. Image credit Greg Simpson.
One Health in action: support for rural communities at the interface with wildlife conservation and ranching areas
Van Rooyen is based at the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station in the Kruger National Park. One of the Station’s activities is to engage with the Mnisi community in the northeastern corner of Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, in developing ways and means to enable humans and animals co-exist in a healthy way.
This essentially means trying to establish a balance between wildlife conservation, natural resource use, farming, animal disease control, and human health, through the collaboration of experts in different disciplines to limit the transmission and adverse effects of diseases that occur in this situation. Internationally, this holistic, multidisciplinary approach is known as One Health.
“The University of Pretoria is in a favourable position to implement the One Health concept in southern Africa in terms of research and training,” explains van Rooyen. This is because of UP’s access to extensive expertise across disciplines, including human medicine, veterinary science and ecology. UP in fact has the only veterinary faculty in the country, and its access to veterinary specialists enables it, in association with other discipline specialists at the University, to deal with challenges holistically.
He says that the Faculty of Veterinary Science at UP has made substantial progress in incorporating the One Health philosophy into its undergraduate and postgraduate curricula, and that the University is working towards developing institution-wide training at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in this regard. For its efforts the Faculty received recognition from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for its One Health-driven work on zoonoses in the Mnisi Study Area.
Van Rooyen explains that most of the students involved in the Faculty’s One Health initiative come from all over Africa, and that they are often already working as state veterinarians or within the health and/or ecological sectors.
During the course of their training these students conduct research, and are required to spend a week in the Mnisi study area to gain hands-on experience by working with traditional healers and conservation entities, and in veterinary and human health clinics. They can then take what they’ve learnt and apply it to the complex health challenges that they encounter during the course of their daily work back home.
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Fighting zoonoses in Mnisi, Mpumalanga
“Research in the Mnisi study area focuses on the transmission of diseases between wildlife and domestic animals, and from animals to humans,” says van Rooyen. Diseases transmitted from animals to humans, such as rabies, are known as ‘zoonoses’. According to some estimates up to 60% of human infectious diseases originate from wild animals and they can play a substantial role as sources of emerging diseases for both humans and domesticated animals.
“Habitat encroachment results in the increased likelihood of zoonotic diseases to occur,” explains van Rooyen. “As human populations expand into animal territories, there is more interaction between livestock, wildlife and humans that increases the likelihood of the spread of disease between them.”
While the zoonoses are a major issue in the Mnisi area, elsewhere in South Africa and Africa the focus of a One Health initiative might rather be food security, or protecting the natural resources that animals and humans rely on.
The best measure of the outcomes of One Health that van Rooyen has come across is “working together in such a way that we can measure the number of lives of animals and people saved, the amount of money saved, and the level to which ecosystem services are improved.” This is exactly what the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station and the Mnisi project, through research, training and service, hopes to achieve.
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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.
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See related images, video and infographic on the right sidebar.
One Health supports rural farming communities at the interface with wildlife conservation
UP aims to improve human and animal health in rural farming communities at the interface with the Kruger National Park through research, student training, and community engagement.
Up to 60% of infectious diseases that affect humans originate from wildlife and domesticated animals. This means that in areas where people live in close proximity to animals, such as at the interface with the Kruger National Park (KNP), the risk of contracting a zoonosis (diseases that spread from animals to humans) is high.
ince 2008, researchers from the University of Pretoria (UP) have been working in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, to improve human and animal health, and the environment they share, using opportunities provided by the Hans Hoheisen Research Platform (HHRP).
n that region, as is the case elsewhere in South Africa and Africa, rural farming communities face severe poverty and a heavy disease burden. Where conservation areas and such communities are in close proximity, applying the internationally-recognised principle of One Health, may be the only way to ensure that people and the environment thrive.
One Health brings together the disciplines of medicine, veterinary science, ecology, and others to establish a balance between wildlife conservation, natural resource use, farming, animal disease control, and human health.
The HHRP applies the One Health concept on the ground employing three entities: the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station (HHWRS) near the KNP Orpen Gate, the Hluvukani Animal Clinic (HAC), and the Mnisi Community Programme (MCP). Laboratories and other facilities for wildlife research are based at the Research Station; at the clinic the animals from communities in the Mnisi Study area are treated; and the community programme coordinates engagement with the community on issues of human, animal and environmental health.
The study area includes National and Provincial Parks, rural villages and farming communities, and private game reserves. Almost 50 000 people in 16 villages, and approximately 20 000 head of cattle benefit from the initiative.
A brief history of the HHRP
What started in 2003 as a concept put forward by UP’s Professor Nick Kriek has now grown into a comprehensive programme managed by Jacques van Rooyen that applies the One Health philosophy to Africa, and coordinates research and training in the field. In 2008, Prof Kriek proposed that Dr Greg Simpson establish the Hluvukani Animal Clinic as part of the HHRP to study the local zoonoses and to train students in veterinary and medical disciplines.
“When I started up in 2008, the emphasis was to have some training for students in a resource-limited setting alongside a cluster of nature reserves,” says Simpson. “The approach was to teach veterinary and medical students how to work with a development mindset.”
With his position being predominantly in clinical training of veterinary students, Dr Simpson spent most of his time training students on how to become familiar with diseases in a poor, rural context, and working with both animals and people in that environment.
“We were working through translators; a skill students need to pick up,” he explains. And in terms of training medical and veterinary students as a group, “it was an attempt to bridge gaps between two different health disciplines; I think the medical students learned more.”
Simpson also helped establish a number of research projects in the Hluvukani and greater Mnisi areas. Prof Kriek retired in 2009, and van Rooyen now runs the HHRP and is responsible for the MCP. He has also been instrumental in developing the One Health curricula at UP taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate level since 2010.
The HHRP was established in association with the Peace Parks Foundation, the Mnisi Tribal Authority, and the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency.
See related photos on the right sidebar - The Mnisi Study Area is an ideal place to study and implement One Health - wildlife, humans and livestock are in constant contact within a single ecosystem. Image credit Greg Simpson.
Fighting zoonoses in Mnisi, Mpumalanga
Rabies and tick-bite fever can be transmitted from animals to humans - University of Pretoria (UP)'s Faculty of Veterinary Science helps farming communities near wildlife manage these diseases through research.
Communities in the Mnisi Study Area, Mpumalanga, on the border of the Kruger National Park, are no strangers to the effects of zoonoses: rural farmers living at the interface with African conservation areas are in close contact with wildlife and domestic animals that sustain these diseases.
Zoonoses are infectious animal diseases that can be contracted by humans. The recent Ebola epidemic in Western Africa, rabies, tick-bite fever, brucellosis, and bovine tuberculosis are good examples of such diseases.
The University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science established the Hluvukani Animal Clinic (HAC) in 2008 to provide animal health care to livestock farmers in the Mnisi tribal area.
The clinic is part of the Hans Hoheisen Research Platform (HHRP) that provides a real-world setting in which UP researchers can study zoonotic diseases. Professor Nick Kriek, pioneer of the HHRP, says an important question about these diseases is, “what drives the emergence and re-emergence of disease at the interface between humans and animals?”.
“Bovine TB is an emerging disease in wildlife and has become common in animals in the Kruger National Park. Over the years, it has been spreading into rural cattle farming areas,” he says. “There is also bovine brucellosis in buffaloes, which can spread into domestic cattle, and from there into human populations.”
Dr Greg Simpson, who helped establish the HAC, conducted research on brucellosis in cattle, dogs, goats and humans, and other zoonotic diseases such as tick-bite fever, Q-fever, Rift Valley fever, leptospirosis, bartonellosis, and arthropod-borne viruses while in the Mnisi area.
At the same time, other local and foreign researchers investigated rabies virus epidemiology, tick ecology, and ectoparasiticide resistance, tuberculosis epidemiology, wild carnivore diseases and genetics, veld management, and herding behaviour.
As an example of the high impact of these studies, researchers showed that vaccinating at least 70% of dogs during annual campaigns would be needed to control rabies for at least 12 months. The finding provides the opportunity of controlling dog rabies in Africa through vaccination.
Another major recommendation that came out of a National Institute of Communicable Disease survey of HAC data, was that zoonotic diseases, especially tick-bite fever, should be considered when adult patients present with fever in rural areas of South Africa.
And finally, an important long-term study taking place in Mnisi area is the Health and Demographic Surveillance System Survey (HDSS) which monitors health, productivity and the demographics of more than 20 000 cattle in the Mnisi study area. There is also an HDSS for dogs to keep track of rabies.
Dr Laetitia Gaudex, who completed a Master’s degree at UP’s Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, was involved in the HDSS study, focusing on the control of foot-and-mouth disease in Mnisi.
“Working in rural communities is a humbling experience, and applying veterinary knowledge to improve their livelihoods even slightly brings out the humane aspect of the ‘One Health’ concept,” says Gaudex about her research.
One Health refers to an internationally-recognised approach to solving health problems by combining the multidisciplinary skills of medical doctors, veterinarians and ecologists to address the complexity of the challenges when attempting to strike a balance between wildlife conservation, natural resource use, farming, animal disease control, and human health.
The UP’s Faculty of Veterinary Science is one of the few institutions in Africa incorporating the One Health philosophy into its official curricula, and the University is working towards creating institution-wide training at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. The Faculty has also received recognition from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for its One Health-driven work on zoonoses in the Mnisi Study Area.
See related images on the right sidebar. A vet student holds a calf in Mnisi. At the Hluvukani Animal Clinic in Mnisi, working with local livestock helps researchers monitor zoonotic diseases like rabies and tick-bite fever.
Young student carries torch for UP One Health on international board
University of Pretoria (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.
See related images on right sidebar. 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.