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​From grassroots efforts to global gatherings, Ohio State is improving world health

The Ohio State University is nearing completion of almost a month on the world stage spanning from Brazil to Qatar to Ethiopia in its role as a higher education leader in global efforts to improve public health.

Following a late October Global Innovation workshop in Paraiba, Brazil, Ohio State representatives are leading an international global health congress in Doha, Qatar, this week and preparing to celebrate life-saving partnerships culminating in the registration of Ohio State’s Eastern Africa regional office as a nongovernmental organization in Ethiopia.

The timing of events has coincided with the observance of One Health Day on Nov. 3. One Health is a strategy to more fully understand and address the links between animal health, human health and the environment.

International congress

Scientists and policymakers from more than 30 countries are attending the 4th International Congress on Pathogens at the Human-Animal Interface (ICOPHAI) in Doha, focusing on how environmental change affects global health.

Wondwossen Gebreyes, executive director of Ohio State’s Global One Health initiative (GOHi), helped found the biennial congress in 2009 as a way to unite professionals who are dedicated to the One Health mission.

“The founding principle of ICOPHAI is to bring scientists and policymakers from around the world – and especially scientists from developing countries with scientists from the developed and industrialized world – to share knowledge and share experiences in an effort to address high-priority disease threats,” Gebreyes said.

Recent outbreaks have demonstrated that these threats are not confined to developing countries. Since the last ICOPHAI convened in Thailand in 2015, the spread of the Zika virus to southern American states heightened awareness of a disease previously associated with tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. After reported symptomatic cases in the United States increased from 61 in 2015 to 5,102 in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s participation in a global cooperative response helped reduce the number of U.S. cases to date in 2017 to 331.

“As a mosquito-borne infection, Zika is a clear example of what we are talking about at ICOPHAI this year: It is a disease emerging on a global basis that is connected to the environment,” said Gebreyes, also chair of ICOPHAI 2017. “Climate change is also highly important to what’s happening in terms of disease ecology and transmission.

“The future of One Health is becoming more and more critical because of current global dynamics. The human population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and that is associated with increased urbanization and deforestation,” he said. “All of those factors have potential to increase the devastating impact of disease.”

Zika captures headlines, but the daily challenges in the developing world to prevent staph infections or raise food animals safely have a far greater impact on everyday life and pose dangers to community health. Among the presenters from 34 countries at ICOPHAI, Ohio State scientists and their collaborators are reporting on their work addressing those kinds of concerns, such as:

  • Management and prevention of beef cattle diseases including bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis and antimicrobial-resistant salmonella strains.
  • Dairy farm sanitation practices to prevent low milk productivity and milk-borne diseases that can spread from cattle to humans.
  • Treatment strategies to prevent opportunistic infections in people with HIV/AIDS working in food production facilities.

Additional broad topics discussed at the 2017 international congress are:

  • antimicrobial resistance and drug-related issues
  • biosecurity, biodefense and disaster response
  • identifying disease origins and developing vaccines using new technologies
  • food-borne and water-borne diseases
  • parasitic and environmental disease transmission from animals to humans
  • capacity building, e-learning and outreach

Eastern Africa

What exactly is capacity building? Ohio State’s partnerships across Eastern Africa, and in Ethiopia in particular, are a good example of how it works and why it’s important.

Gebreyes spearheaded an initial partnership in 2010 between Ohio State and academic institutions, government organizations and service agencies in Eastern Africa to create sustainable collaborations in teaching, research and outreach aligned around the One Health approach. Ethiopia was primed for this kind of initiative at that time – the country had invested heavily in education infrastructure but experienced a major shortage of professionals with the proper skills to train a new pool of health-care practitioners. As the second-largest nation in Africa with the largest number of livestock, Ethiopia also presents valuable opportunities for the Ohio State community.

GOHi team: Getnet Yimer, Ashley Bersani, Tigist Endashaw,
Emia Oppenheim, Kayleigh Gallagher, Wondwossen Gebreyes

At ICOPHAI 2017, the GOHi team reported on Ohio State’s progress in this massive One Health pursuit.

Three critical issues topped the initial agenda in Ethiopia: on-the-ground field work to improve screening and treatment for cervical cancer, develop a roadmap for the prevention and control of rabies as a model for the One Health platform, and make improvements in environmental health, food safety and food security.

Simultaneous activities focused on sustaining and extending the impact of those efforts by building research, training and outreach capacity to improve management of acute biological hazards like zoonotic diseases as well as chronic issues and chemical hazards that affect the human, animal and environment interface. Broad technical areas of focus include surveillance and monitoring, disease prevention and control in humans and animals, and education and advocacy.

One Health Summer Institutes consisting of training, projects and workshops led by Ohio State faculty from 13 different disciplines have been a mainstay of the initiative and have been supplemented by additional successes that GOHi has logged along the way. Ohio State has secured funding from several federal health agencies to support a TB clinical trial, leadership training for Ethiopian public health officials, and the extension of workshops on ethics, rabies prevention and antimicrobial resistance to the neighboring countries of Kenya and Tanzania.

From the very beginning, the benefits of the partnerships were designed to go both ways – the dozens of participating Ohio State faculty and students conduct highly relevant research, gain valuable clinical skills, enhance their own training capabilities and carry the lessons of once-in-a-lifetime experiential learning with them for the rest of their careers, Gebreyes notes: “A key part of our goal is to teach Ohio State students to be ready for anything they might encounter in their professional lives.”

Ohio State opened a regional office in Addis Ababa in November 2016 to manage activities throughout the region. On Saturday, Nov. 11, several university leaders and Ohio State contributors to the One Health work in Eastern Africa will join the GOHi team for a ceremony officially christening the new office and celebrating its registration as an NGO by the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Agency.

“This in itself is an example of our own capacity building,” Gebreyes said. “By pursuing NGO registration we have demonstrated our lasting commitment to the One Health mission in Eastern Africa, enabling our engagement with the citizens of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and others to take on a whole new dimension while providing sustainable opportunities for scholarly activities by the Ohio State community.”