The Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa has been a painful reminder about the importance of investing in infectious disease prevention, early detection, and prompt control—three areas central to the Allen School mission. The outbreak shows the need to better understand not only the virus itself, but also the inadequate disease detection and response capacity in vulnerable regions, and a lack of trust in health interventions within the affected communities. The virus, named for the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is zoonotic (meaning that it can be transmitted from animals to humans). In this case, bats were most likely the animal source of the virus. Understanding its origin and how it spread to humans in the first place will be essential for targeting early detection. But the inadequate human resources and infrastructure for detection and response are not disease specific. Investment in detection and response will be effective across the board and allow early control of any emerging or reemerging disease, including the Ebola virus, before it can spread to neighboring countries and then globally.
The Allen School is already working to improve disease detection in Africa. Dr. Terry McElwain is an international expert in zoonotic disease detection systems and has devoted much of the last year to developing a capacity-strengthening plan in east Africa. We are also working to create positive relationships between public health scientists and communities. This requires engagement in their day-to-day challenges, not just when a new disease outbreak occurs. The article you will read in this issue by Dr. Thumbi Mwangi, an Allen School professor based in Kenya, illustrates the level of engagement and the trust it develops. On behalf of the faculty, staff, and students of the Allen School—across the globe—I thank you for your continued support.
Guy Palmer Creighton Endowed Chair and Director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health
Dr. Michelle (Shelley) McGuire, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, is a new affiliate faculty member in the Allen School. Shelley’s expertise is related to human nutrition during the lifecycle, especially during lactation and infancy.
Dr. Mohammad Obaidat, professor of food safety and zoonotic diseases at Jordan University of Science and Technology, visited Dr. Margaret Davis’s lab to learn techniques for genotyping bacterial pathogens. Dr. Obaidat is conducting field studies in Jordan to assess antimicrobial resistance in dairy cattle and small ruminants.
Congratulations to doctoral students Quan Liu and Jackie Stone who were each awarded a one-year, $24,780 Poncin Scholarship to study the Nipah virus. Liu and Stone work with Dr. Hector Aguilar-Carreno, assistant professor in the Allen School.
Paul Ervin, a graduate student in the School of Economic Sciences, was awarded a $15,000 grant with the United Nations Development Programme. Ervin, who works with Dr. Jon Yoder, will research the economics consequences of dengue fever in Paraguay.
It’s the last Thursday in August and today I am having the Kisumu County medical epidemiologist, Dr. Dickens Onyango, accompany me for a field visit to the Allen School research projects in the Lwak area, by the shores of Lake Victoria. At about 8 a.m., Dickens and I meet up at the West mall, the newest mall in Kisumu, where we quickly grab coffee and set off in one of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) field trucks. Our first stop is 14 kilometers north at the KEMRI Kisian Campus, a beautiful campus with neatly-manicured lawns and rows of well-aligned and mature umbrella trees providing a welcoming cool calm of shade.
Here we only get to exchange a few morning greetings with colleagues, before being joined by Dr. Elkanah Otiang, a young energetic field veterinarian who will often be heard belting a hearty often loud, but pleasant laugh. Elkanah doesn’t like to spend time at his desk, and will find every reason to be in the field talking with farmers and treating their animals. He has a team of 15 animal health assistants and community interviewers that work directly under him in the field, and who are involved in the collection of invaluable surveillance data for the Allen School and its partners.