To Ward off Deadly Diseases, Poor Nations Need the Help of Veterinarians

By Neil C. Olson, Dean of St. George's School of Veterinary Medicine
October 31, 2018

Every year, 2.7 million people die from diseases transferred between animals and humans.[1] Poor nations are most vulnerable to these “zoonotic” diseases.

Veterinarians who specialize in public health are uniquely qualified to identify these diseases and play a critical role in preventing them from spreading.

Zoonotic diseases spread from animals to humans in a variety of ways — like contaminated produce, insect bites, and physical contact.[2] Animals of all kinds, including pets and livestock, can carry them.

And they’re a growing problem. Zoonotic diseases comprise 60 percent of all existing communicable diseases — and represent 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[3]

Poor nations are particularly vulnerable. They often have inadequate housing structures, poor sanitation and water systems, and insufficient resources to control animal populations. Healthcare services are also difficult to access. So diseases can spread easily.[4]

Consider the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is dealing with an outbreak of Ebola — a zoonotic disease. It’s already killed more than 100 people.[5]

Brazil is experiencing its worst yellow fever outbreak in decades. Since December 2016, more than 650 people have died.[6]

Veterinarians who specialize in public health are best suited to fight outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. They work with local health agencies to assess risks and control the spread of disease.[7]

St. George’s University is taking the lead in educating the next generation of public health veterinarians. We offer a dual degree program in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public Health.[8] Our students are also trained in the “One Health” approach, which emphasizes the interconnection of humans, animals, and their environment.[9]

Public health veterinarians are crucial to protecting people, especially those in poor nations, from zoonotic diseases. The world needs more of them.











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