In rural Kenyan villages where few families have electricity or indoor plumbing, a surprising technology helps researchers study the health of animals and people: the cell phone.
Families who are part of the population-based animal syndromic surveillance project, or PBASS, use their cell phones to call a veterinarian toll free when an animal is sick. More than 70 percent of families participating in the survey have cell phones; only three percent are connected to the electricity grid.
“Mobile telephony is actually very well developed in most of Africa, especially in Kenya,” says Thumbi Mwangi, clinical assistant professor in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, who has been collecting data since the survey began in February 2013.
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.
The Allen School and the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine are two of the sponsors for this year’s Zoobiquity Conference to be held Saturday, November 1, in Seattle. The theme is “Environment and Health,” with a focus on health issues that people and animals share. WSU faculty will be some of the featured speakers at this event. The afternoon includes walking rounds at the Woodland Park Zoo with presentations at various exhibits including seasonal affective disorder and geriatrics (gorillas), obesity (bears), BRCA gene breast cancer (jaguars), and zoonotic TB and uterine leiomyoma (elephants). Zoobiquity stems from the idea that although animals and people get many of the same diseases, physicians and veterinarians don’t often consult with one another. It calls for an interdisciplinary approach to health issues shared across species.
Bacteria can do something remarkable. They can share genes. So, if one bacterium is resistant to a particular antibiotic, such as tetracycline, it can pass that resistant gene to another bacterium. That bacterium will become resistant and can pass its resistant gene to another bacterium. And they can keep the resistance for a long time, which allows antibiotic resistance to spread widely.
This highly adaptable behavior, while good for bacterial survival, poses a major risk to human health. Treatments for common infections are becoming ineffective in some parts of the world according to a recent report by the World Health Organization. Globally there are already very high rates of antibiotic resistance for urinary tract infections and pneumonia.
Standard recommendations to reduce antibiotic resistance include using antibiotics only when medically necessary. The FDA recently released guidelines to discontinue the use of antibiotics in food animals who are not showing signs of illness. U.S. prescription guidelines for people are created to help ensure antibiotics are only prescribed when someone has a bacterial infection, not a viral illness. Both will have some impact. But according to researchers at the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, it is unlikely to do enough.
“Treatment guidelines in the United States alone are not sufficient to solve the problem,” said Guy Palmer, director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.
Dr. Samuel Thumbi Mwangi, assistant professor in the Allen School, was awarded a Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Grant. He will conduct research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute on malaria and East Coast fever in humans and cattle. Grand Challenge recipients are initially awarded $100,000 and could be funded for up to $1 million if the pilot research is successful.
The WSU Allen School has partnered with the University of Washington and Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Brazil, to develop One Health research and training programs. One Health, or One Medicine, is a collaboration between veterinary medicine and human health professions to improve the lives and wellbeing of animals and people.
Universidade Federal de Viçosa has a well-recognized veterinary school and has recently created a new medical school on campus. The partnership between the three universities will enhance One Health efforts through collaborative work on tropical diseases and exchange programs between students in the United States and Brazil.
“This is a great opportunity for us to extend our global health partnership with the University of Washington into longstanding collaborations among WSU and Brazilian colleagues,” said Guy Palmer, Allen School director.
Healthier Animals, Healthier Children by Tomasina Lucia ’14 DVM, Global Animal Health Pathway Student
When asked about their “big five,” most travelers to Kenya will regale you with talk of lions, elephants, or Cape buffalo. My big five were a bit different. As part of Washington State University’s Global Animal Health Pathway, I traveled to western Kenya for a six-week clinical rotation in research methods during the winter of my clinical year of veterinary training. After traveling almost 60 hours—with layovers and the time zone shift—to get from wintry Pullman to equatorial Kenya, my days were spent in a remote village called Lwak in the Nyanza Province. I stayed in a two-room cottage, complete with mosquito netting, squat toilet, and (usually!) running water. I was fortunate that Lwak has its own market, where I was able to purchase local fruit and a lot of fish, as the village is only a few kilometers from the shores of Lake Victoria (fun fact, Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the world). Along with following community investigators as they surveyed area households, I worked with the project’s animal health team. Instead of snapping pictures of lions and elephants—big game are not historically native to that part of Kenya—my travel photos are mostly of cattle or chickens afflicted with diseases I had previously only seen in textbooks, like foot-and-mouth disease, heartwater, East Coast fever, Newcastle disease, or anaplasmosis.
The Allen Center has been formally awarded LEED-Silver certification by the Green Building Certification Institute. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) recognizes the comprehensive approach and implementation of materials and processes to minimize energy use and adverse environmental impact. The accomplishment is particularly noteworthy given the large percentage of the building devoted to BSL2 and BSL3 laboratories, which require higher energy as compared to office and classroom buildings.
Governor Jay Inslee recently toured the Paul G. Allen Center for Global Animal Health. He was accompanied by his spouse, Trudi, and the directors of agriculture and commerce, Donald “Bud” Hover and Brian Bonlender. U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers also visited the Allen School. The governor, directors, and the congresswoman learned how our programs protect animal and public health in Washington. Our global mission provides new opportunities for discovery, development, and implementation of new technology. Discussions regarding these opportunities and advances in the school’s mission with U.S. Representatives Susan Delbene, Derek Kilmer, and Adam Smith took place in Washington DC.
What a difference a year makes. The Allen School’s Global Animal Health Pathway reached some major milestones in 2013. First, in January, Dr. Gretchen Kaufman joined the Allen School management team as the assistant director for global health education and training. The WSU Faculty Senate then gave its approval in April to create the new professional certificate in global animal health. In May, students Heather Hergert and Kate Stevens were the first to graduate with a veterinary degree and a certificate in global animal health.
“We are proud of this unique program,” says Gretchen Kaufman, who is also the coordinator of the Global Animal Health Pathway. “It is the only global animal health program in the country that provides opportunities for motivated veterinary students to learn about and participate in the important field of global health.”