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Winter 2014

Advancing One Health

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The University of Florida scientific team pictured in front of the Public Health Laboratory in Gressier, Haiti. L to R: Dr. Bernard Okech, Meer Alam, Dr. Antony Maurelli, Dave Pittman, Massimiliano Tagliamonte, Maha Elbadry and Dr. Madsen Beau De Rochars.

 

By Maha Elbadry, Ph.D. student

In today’s world, the burden of infectious diseases knows no borders or nationality differences. It is almost impossible to turn our backs to global health and remain behind our borders. It is also no longer feasible to consider an approach of one disease or one discipline as 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. This understanding of the complexity of disease transmission and emergence has led the world to adopt the concept of “One Health” which aims to connect human health to animal health and the environment. This approach focuses on creating interdisciplinary teams to widen the scope of research studies and improve intervention for control efforts.

The University of Florida has taken major steps toward embracing the One Health concept and implementing it on the ground. A great example of that can be seen in UF’s state-of-the-art laboratory in the Gressier region in Haiti. Here, scientists are conducting studies on human, environment and zoonotic diseases simultaneously. UF not only is invested in building infrastructure and equipment, forming interdisciplinary teams and collaborating with members of other universities, the university has gone far and beyond in engaging local community and staff members in emerging infectious disease research, thereby serving as a great tool of empowerment to the country in the long term.

In the above picture we can see team members representing five different countries who are connected to each other through their passion for science, care for Haiti and affiliation to the University of Florida. Bernard Okech, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the PHHP department of environmental and global health and a native of Kenya, is working on mosquito species distribution in Haiti and their role in disease transmission. Meer Allam, a graduate student in the department of environmental and global health who hails from Bangladesh, works with Ali Afsar, Ph.D., (also from Bangladesh) to conduct cholera research. Anthony Maurelli, Ph.D., an American working on sexually transmitted diseases, recently joined UF from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and works in collaboration with UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. David Pittman, an American Ph.D. student in UF’s geography department, works as a lab coordinator. Massimiliano Tagliamonte, an Italian Ph.D. student studying at the College of Veterinary Medicine, is researching malaria genomics in collaboration with Maha Elbadry. Elbadry, a native of Egypt and a Ph.D. student in PHHP’s department of environmental health, is studying the impact of malaria on pregnancy in Haiti. As a Haitian and coordinator for all research activities at the UF lab, Madsen Beau De Rochars, M.D., M.P.H., works to help make these projects a success.

The picture doesn’t capture the full team of personnel or projects happening on the ground — it represents only a beam of light of the activities in the country. What you cannot see in this picture are the large number of UF Master of Public Health students from all around the globe who complete their internships at the UF laboratory in Gressier. You also cannot see the large beehive of native Haitians who are the main workforce in the UF laboratory, working in close collaboration with UF scholars to deliver data and run the lab.

As proud members of UF community, it is our mission to keep working together, building interdisciplinary teams and maintaining in our hearts a passion for science and public service. We hope that in the long term we can stand together and declare Haiti a nation free of preventable emerging infectious diseases.