One-Health team improves the lives of people in Nicaragua
Human health, animal health and the environment in which they both live are inextricably linked. This is especially evident in third-world countries where daily survival is dependent on these linkages. A collaborative transdisciplinary team of students from Texas A&M University and University of California (UC) Davis recently traveled to Nicaragua and had the opportunity to see firsthand “One Health” connections while helping to improve the lives of communities.
One of the students was Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health graduate Thomas Jeffreys, M.P.H., who trained with the team for four weeks at both Texas A&M and UC Davis prior to traveling to Nicaragua. Training focused on such topics as teambuilding, foodborne diseases, food safety and security, community garden planning, livestock health and handling, animal health and its affect on human health, public health program planning/implementation and environmental issues.
According to Jeffreys, “The training taught the team to be prepared, but also mindful of the culture and aware that we are there to do what the people need, not what we think is best for them.”
In addition to public health and environmental students, medical and veterinary medicine students comprised the eight members selected for the interdisplinary team. The goal of the month-long practicum was to explore the causes of common diseases and develop solutions and strategies that can be used to alleviate animal and human illness and improve the standard of living of the people in the country.
Working with local doctors to screen and educate patients on the causes of their illnesses while investigating connections to both animal and environmental health factors, Jeffreys experienced first hand the positive impact of an interdisciplinary approach. He also assisted in building community gardens to provide vegetables for a population whose diet consists largely of beans, rice and fried foods while providing nutrition education. Performing these tasks in a foreign, underdeveloped country proved stressful at times, but taught Jeffreys the necessity of being flexible in overcoming obstacles.
“Though team members were each trained in specific disciplines, those lines were blurred and interwoven in the face of what we encountered,” he said.
Health fairs consisted of as many animals as people because having healthy animals is essential for the livelihood of the people. Jeffreys dewormed animals and helped with veterinary consultations, something he had never done before. Of this experience, he emphatically believes that, “a representative of public health should always be willing to help in any way, no matter the circumstance.”
Additionally, the team completed a health assessment to provide insight on how to improve the program to better serve the people of Nicaragua in coming years. For example, in a country where households burn all garbage and waste right outside their homes and the land is saturated with pesticides, the team found kidney disease in humans to be rampant. Better educating the population on how to avoid toxins that impact their health and the health of livestock and companion animals was identified as an important subject for the next one-health team to address.
“Tom’s practicum is an excellent example of the kind of experience we desire for our students, providing them the opportunity to translate what they’ve heard in the classroom into practical application,” said Interim Dean Jim Burdine. “Multidisciplinary field experiences help students learn about collaboration, communities and most importantly about themselves.”
“Helping people in need while learning of the benefits of one-health, interdisciplinary approaches and solutions required us thinking outside the box of our individual disciplines to how we could best benefit each challenge we encountered,” Jeffreys said. “This experience allowed me to not only put public health skills into practice, but to do so with concern for the health of humans, the animals they depend on for their livelihood, and the environment in which they live and to understand how they are all interrelated and affected each other.”