Partnering for Better Health.

Tackling Wicked Global Health Problems with Duke University

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‘Today the world is faced with wicked problems that a single institution or discipline cannot respond to alone,’ said Duke University’s Professor Gregory Gray at a recently held public lecture hosted by UKZN’s School of Health Sciences.

Examples of these wicked health problems include the threat of emerging infectious diseases to humans and animals, the increasing problem of antimicrobial resistant pathogens, and the need to increase food production whilst maintaining its safety. Gray encouraged an interdisciplinary One Health approach as a way forward.

One Health engages professionals in human, veterinary and environmental health disciplines in responding to complex problems.  This week Gray  and his research colleague, Ms Laura Borkenhagen are meeting with Professor Mohamed Ezzat El Zowalaty and his research team at UKZN to develop a collaborative research project with a One Health theme in the Durban area.

El Zowalaty who is an associate Research Professor of Virology and Microbiology at UKZN’s School of Health Sciences is currently leading and conducting the research study to investigate what viruses are circulating in swine populations in the Durban area.

Both teams of researchers (UKZN and Duke) are studying humans and animals in an effort to improve the health of humans and animals and to prevent any major spread of viruses such as avian influenza which recently caused considerable damage to poultry industries in Asia, North America and Europe. More recently, avian influenza spread in South Africa in late June 2017 and affected poultry populations in the country causing  major health threats and concerns.

The One Health approach encourages collaborative efforts of many experts (like zoonotic disease specialists, laboratorians, physicians, and veterinarians) working across human, animal, and environmental health to improve the health of people and animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife. These One Health teams often work to identify sources of emerging pathogens and test ways to reduce their threats.

Gray encouraged UKZN to consider developing collaborations in One Health. He emphasised the importance of working with local veterinarians. He said where large groups of people and animals mix, infectious agents may move between them.  He emphasised that such movement can be a two-way street with viruses or bacteria moving both from animals to man and sometimes from humans to animals.

To ensure the success of the Durban project, El Zowalaty commented on a partnership he has forged in KwaZulu-Natal with local livestock producers namely; Ezemvelo KZN wildlife, wild bird ringers, wildlife rehabilitation centres (FreeMe, CROW, Raptor Rescue, Second Chance Avian Rescue), eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, Veterinary services, KZN Department of Environment and Rural services, and KZN Department of Health.

El Zowalaty’s research project aims to investigate a variety of zoonotic viruses among other pathogens in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. This is a neglected field, which has profoundly important implications for human health. He proposes using the One Health approach, which promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and which will strengthen the efforts of various sectors working in the field, and result in robust and useful research.

Words: MaryAnn Francis