by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D.
As they entered a village in Tanzania, Cassie Eakins (’16 DVM) and members of the rabies team announced over a loudspeaker that there would be a rabies vaccine clinic coming to town the next day. At another village, they tossed posters from their vehicle. Once the team started to drive away, the village children gathered them up to be posted. The next day a crowd was lined up to have their dogs vaccinated. People traveled many miles by bike or motorcycle, but most walked, says Eakins. Each owner received a rabies vaccination certificate.
“We sometimes vaccinated 300 dogs in a day,” says Eakins, a WSU veterinary student who spent five weeks in Tanzania as part of the Global Animal Health Certificate program. “They understand really well the danger of rabies.”
“You can learn about it in textbooks, but it is no replacement for hands-on experience.”
—Cassie Eakins (’16 DVM) who spent five weeks in Tanzania during the fall of 2015
Rabies is the deadliest zoonotic disease on the planet. Each year more than 60,000 people die from rabies worldwide and about half of those deaths are children under the age of 16. Globally, more than 99 percent of human rabies deaths are caused by dog bites—almost all in Africa and Asia. The WSU Rabies Vaccination Team and its partners from the Serengeti Health Initiative visit 180 villages in seven districts adjacent to the Serengeti National Park. The result of these efforts is that the vaccination zone is now rabies free. Eakins says one of the reasons it is so effective is because the team members are from Tanzania so they understand the culture and the people.
“Being fully exposed to the culture was helpful for me because it is a way to understand people that much better,” says Eakins. “And if you know the people better then you are able to make a difference.”
WSU alumna Susan Bradish (’97 DVM) had a similar experience after spending four weeks in India while she was earning her veterinary degree at WSU. She started the Susan Bradish Travel Grant in 2010 because she recognized the need for veterinary expertise in developing nations, and she wanted other students to gain an understanding of the daily challenges people face in most of the world.
“The death of a single animal can mean the difference between living and dying,” says Bradish. The one and only water buffalo owned by a family she met in India died while giving birth. The calf also died. The local veterinarian explained to Bradish, a young veterinary student at the time, that this loss would likely mean starvation for some of the 20 extended family members. “That was a sobering and profound realization,” she says.
While Eakins was in Tanzania, she also had the opportunity to work with Allen School Clinical Assistant Professor Felix Lankester to design her own research project. She wondered if there was a correlation between the number of parasites a dog has, such as ticks, fleas, or lice, and the health of the dog. Eakins is still working on the results, but she says collecting data in the field is not something she would have been able to do had she not had this opportunity. For Eakins, receiving the Bradish travel grant helped defray some of the costs and made the trip possible.
“You can learn about it in textbooks, but it is no replacement for hands-on experience,” says Eakins. “I want to use the resources I have to help other people.”
Learn more about the WSU Rabies Vaccination Program.