Experiential Summer Field Course in East Africa Trains Future One Health Leaders

2019 Rx One Health participants pose in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania.
2019 Rx One Health participants in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania.

2019 Rx One Health Field Institute participant shares her experience in this “crash-course” in One Health 

Applications for the 2020 Rx One Health Field Institute are now open! This four-week, field-based experiential summer program in East Africa offers career training for recent graduates or students in medical and veterinary school, as well as early-career health, agriculture, environmental sciences, and conservation professionals. 

Led by the UC Davis One Health Institute with the UC Davis School of Medicine and a great team of international collaborators, Rx One Health develops participants’ skills for addressing complex challenges using the One Health approach, which recognizes that the health of people, animals, and their environments are inextricably linked. A sampling of the topics explored includes ecosystem dynamics, biodiversity conservation, epidemiology, infectious disease surveillance, food safety, and community and stakeholder engagement.

2019 Rx One Health participant and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine alumna Amanda Irish '10 shares her experience:

I had never seen such an enormous rat. Growing up in the U.S., you hear stories about prodigious New York City sewer rats but this was something else: the size of a small house cat and perched casually on its handler’s shoulder as if the most normal thing in the world.

Amanda Irish holding a large rat.
Amanda holding a scent detection rat.

After hearing about the amazing abilities of these rats and the scent detection training they receive at the nonprofit organization APOPO, I found it easy to see why they are called “hero” rats: they sniff out tuberculosis and landmines to save lives. Our visit to the APOPO training site at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania demonstrated a unique partnership between humans and animals that perfectly exemplifies One Health’s collaborative approach to tackling major health issues.

Our time in Tanzania was filled with similar revelations about the interconnectedness of human and animal lives, along with the environment we all share. From the conflict between human and animal needs for water in Ruaha National Park to the problems of plastics pollution and ocean acidification on Mafia Island, Rx One Health was, in fact, a crash-course in all things One Health.

Rx One Health participants on a boat.
Amanda (first row-center, wearing glasses) and her Rx One Health classmates spent a full week in Mafia Island, a perfect setting for the marine ecology and sustainability portion of the course.

We gained practical, hands-on experience in animal sampling techniques and thought through how to prioritize infectious disease risk. Along the way, we were guided by enthusiastic faculty who took a genuine interest in us, and we formed close-knit friendships with fellow classmates. 

I had embarked on the Rx One Health course hoping to achieve some clarity about my long-term career goals and interests. Having initially come from a veterinary background and then ending up in Master of Public Health (MPH) and PhD programs that are very human-focused, I felt I was losing sight of the big picture. I also wasn’t really sure about the nature or feasibility of a career in One Health.

I came away from my Rx One Health experience with an abundance of inspiration: so many examples of people thriving in One Health careers and ideas for where I may want to take my own career. I left with a better understanding of my career goals and interests—and how to get there.

Amanda looks at a camel.
In Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, Rx Amanda and her classmates visited a camel dairy to learn about camel health and the importance of camels for milk, meat, livelihoods and cultural values in Africa.

Perhaps best of all, I carry with me the newly forged connections with others interested in One Health: a diverse array of classmates, faculty and others we met along the way.

And if I ever have need of a hero rat, I know where to find one!

Amanda Irish, DVM, MPH is currently a PhD candidate at UCSF. Her research and career interests include infectious disease epidemiology, particularly in emerging and vector-borne zoonotic diseases; spatial epidemiology; and climate change. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

See more photos from the 2019 course on Twitter using #RXOH2019. The application deadline for the 2020 Rx One Health Field Institute course is January 31, 2020.

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