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Partnership aims to improve east African health care

Ohio State health sciences professionals and students are working to fight against the spread of rabies through their work in the Ethiopia-One Health partnership, a program that focuses on different health threats in east African countries.

The partnership was given the 2015 Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education, an award that celebrates global education initiatives from higher education institutions.

Focusing on OSU’s three discovery themes — health and wellness, energy and environment, and food production and security— the partnership aims to combine the knowledge of OSU, Addis Ababa University and the University of Gondar to improve the quality of treatment and awareness of various health threats in eastern Africa, according to the program’s website.

Initially, the partnership, which started around 2006, was intended to be a research study on foodborne pathogens such as salmonella by Wondwossen Gebreyes, director of global health programs at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

In 2009, an exchange program was added and program leaders participated in meetings with high-level officials in Ethiopia, such as the minister of health, the minister of education and the president of Ethiopia in 2011.

In 2012, a three-year strategy plan and projects within the partnership were created, Gebreyes said. That’s when the partnership became more widespread across the university, he added.

One of the projects that was added is the rabies prevention and control program, which focuses on improving the quality of rabies treatment and education surrounding the disease. The program has received support from the Ethiopian president, said Jeanette O’Quin, a clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine. She also said there was a lot of enthusiasm and interest in fixing the problem and that the funding, which mostly comes from Ethiopian partners and the National Institute of Health, is still in progress for the project.

The project is already working on making a vaccination for dogs and humans widely available. O’Quin said other countries besides Ethiopia are facing rabies problems from too many infected dogs and not enough vaccines, so the hope is that widespread vaccination will help reduce the problem. She added that vaccines are still in development outside of dogs.

The hope for the rabies program is it will be a model for other zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, O’Quin said. In the future with similar types of illness, doctors working with the One Health partnership will be able to use the same contacts and follow the same model, she added.

One of the most notable impacts of the partnership overall is the success of the Ph.D. students in Africa, Gebreyes said. There are about six Ph.D. students participating, most of whom will be graduating soon. He added that there are not enough professors in the partner universities with Ph.D.s and that “even in the oldest university, more than 75 percent, do not have a Ph.D. Training six or seven is a big impact.”

Gebreyes said he is grateful that this partnership has given students and researchers the ability to help others.

“We wanted to do a comparative research project between the U.S. here in Ohio and Kenya (and) Ethiopia, while at the same time providing service learning opportunities for our students in veterinary medicine, veterinary public health and others,” he said.

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