One world, one health

Health care experts have realized the myriad ways human health is tied to animal and environmental health, a concept called One Health. UF’s One Health program brings together students and experts from a variety of disciplines to solve the world’s complex and interconnected health care problems.

By Morgan Sherburne

POST_April_2014_FWhen he was a boy, Jacob Atem told himself that if he heard shouts of, “Lion! Lion!” he would run for the bush, where he could hide.

He was one of Sudan’s Lost Boys — one of thousands of orphaned boys escaping civil strife in the country during the 1990s. More than 2.5 million people died in the conflict, which lasted until 2005.

One night, the calls warning of a lion finally came.

“When I was young, I thought it would be safer to hide in the bush, but the lion was coming out of the same bush I was running toward,” he says. “So I ran. I was really scared and

I went so fast and I was so skinny, there was a branch I didn’t see. I ran right into the sharp tree.”

Atem could see his own bone.

“I told myself, man, I wish I was a doctor,” he remembers. “There was no doctor to help me.”

There are fewer than 100 doctors in South Sudan, a country of close to 12 million people. When young Atem was in the bush, looking at the bone through his skin, he made a promise to himself: he would become a doctor. While that ultimately did not happen, Atem instead has brought doctors to South Sudan, and is now strengthening his understanding of health care through UF’s One Health initiative.

 

The origin of a program

One Health is a bourgeoning concept that looks to address complex problems from multiple disciplines, often focusing on how these connected issues affect public health, veterinary health and environmental health, says Gregory Gray, M.D., M.P.H., director of UF’s One Health Center of Excellence in the Emerging Pathogens Institute. Gray says One Health focuses on the intersection between people, the environment and animals.

“Some of the problems are so complicated, there’s no way to approach them from a single discipline,” he says. “Here at the University of Florida we are uniquely positioned to offer students such interdisciplinary training. The very interdisciplinary Emerging Pathogens Institute is the perfect home for our One Health programs. We have faculty and staff from five colleges and institutes engaged in our One Health research and training programs.”

The concept of One Health has been around for more than a decade and grew because of a variety of factors, from humans expanding into new geographic areas to the way climate change affects diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With these growing challenges, UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions established three programs in One Health in 2012. The college offers a certificate, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in One Health. These are the only such graduate programs in the United States, Gray says. The Ph.D. program is the only One Health doctoral program in the world.

Having colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Health Professions and Veterinary Medicine on one campus benefits the One Health program by giving students and researchers more options for collaboration, Gray notes. But those involved in One Health don’t just originate from these health colleges.

“Along the way, we’ve found quite a few faculty members in different colleges who embrace it and get it,” he says.

Aside from education, research is a crucial aspect of what UF is trying to accomplish in One Health. The program is also now part of UF’s Preeminence Plan — which places heavy emphasis on research collaboration.

This month, The POST will focus on a few of the students involved in One Health to show how the program is helping them reach their own goals — and the kind of impact this work might have on the world.

 

The Ph.D. Student

Atem made it out of the bush and away from the lions, then spent nine years in Kenya. The United States government arranged for hundreds of the Lost Boys to be placed in U.S. foster care. Atem came to Michigan.

As an undergraduate, Atem started paying on the promise he made to himself as a young boy: Along with fellow lost boy David Deng, he started the nonprofit Southern Sudan Health Care Organization. After a hard-won bachelor’s degree in biology, Atem fell short of the test scores he needed for admission to medical school. But he remained in the health care field, earning a Master of Public Health degree from Michigan State University, all the while building a health care clinic in his home village of Maar in the state of Jonglei, Southern Sudan.

Completed in October 2011, the clinic receives more than 100 patients a day.

In 2011, Atem arrived at the University of Florida and started a degree in the College of Public Health and Health Profession’s department of health services research, management and policy. But it wasn’t quite the right fit.

Atem found UF’s One Health graduate programs in the Department of Environmental and Global Health and is now pursuing a doctorate in public health with a concentration in One Health.

For Atem, the concept felt specifically designed for the kind of work he wants to continue in his home country.

“In South Sudan, we are nomadic people. We travel with cows. This skill set will be much needed, understanding that prevention is better than a cure,” he says. “Certain outbreaks always start in the animal sector. A farmer could get in contact with his pig, and come in contact with someone else. Before you know it, you have an outbreak.”

For more on Jacob’s story click here.

 

The master’s student

The same holistic approach to health appealed to master’s student Jonnie Dietz. Dietz graduated from UF with a degree in entomology. During her undergraduate career, Dietz took a course about exotic and invasive species and biosecurity. The course clicked with her.

“One Health to me was such an intuitive approach. Human health, animal health and environmental health are all intertwined, and to better improve health care, we need interdisciplinary collaboration and research,” she says.

Dietz is now a second-semester student in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, in the department of environmental and global health. She is pursuing a master’s degree with a concentration in One Health. She sees the need for medical doctors, veterinary professionals and environmental scientists to work together.

“Today, more than any other time, the world population is growing and you can get from one side of the world to the next in a matter of hours,” Dietz says. “It’s a small world, and the opportunity to spread disease from one place to another is so easy.”

 

The professor

One faculty member who has embraced the idea of One Health is Holly Donohoe, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Health and Human Performance’s department of tourism, recreation and sport management.

Although she already has a Ph.D. in geography, Donohoe completed the One Health certificate program in December. A student turned her on to the program, which she says will benefit her understanding of health risks and health crises in Florida and around the world. Donohoe said she has started the master’s degree, and has plans to continue.

“I guess it seems bizarre that a professor with a doctorate would go back to school, but it makes me much more valuable. I can contribute to the One Health dialogue,” she says. “What’s really exceptional about the certificate program is that it brings together people from across the world. Not only do we have diversity of perspective, but we also have students who are pediatricians in Florida, directors of public health departments in Egypt and public health representatives from Pakistan.”

 

 

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