College receives funding to start One Health project in Africa

By Sarah Carey

Woman in field in Senegal

A new project involving University of Florida researchers will benefit women and children in farm families in Senegal. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jorge Hernandez)

The University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine recently embarked on a One Health project aimed at helping women farmers, their families and livestock in Senegal, Africa.

The project involves a strategic partnership between UF, Senegal’s Institute of Agricultural Research and that country’s Ministry of Health. Funding is through a $250,000 grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Our research efforts will help define accepted and adaptable interventions to improve the nutritional status of livestock and people in Senegal,”said Dr.  Jorge Hernandez, a professor of epidemiology at the college and the lead principal investigator of the study.

Hernandez said the plan is to produce baseline data and to monitor the incidence of gastrointestinal parasites and anemia in small ruminants, such as goats and sheep, as well as pregnant women and children in rural communities along the Senegal River before, during and after the rainy season.

“These are very remote areas,” Hernandez said. “Limited human mobility between urban and rural communities is a broad factor that can contribute to unemployment, poverty and low education. Anemia in pregnant women and malnutrition in children remain important health problems in rural Senegal.”

Climate change can affect the water supply, agricultural production and the geographic and seasonal patterns of gastrointestinal parasite infections in African livestock, the researchers said. Climate changes may expand the geographic distribution of parasitic infections, but  can also have a negative effect on parasite survival during prolonged dry seasons.Changes in the water supply can have devastating implications in Africa, where much of the population relies on local rivers for water and agricultural productivity.

Child in field with cows in Senegal

Many children from Sengalese farm families suffer from malnutrition. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jorge Hernandez)

“In addition, socioeconomic and ecological forces can impact human and livestock movements, further complicating the effect of climate change on the seasonal patterns of parasitic infections in people and animals,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez and UF team members visited Senegal in September 2013 and May 2014. In his first visit, Hernandez met with veterinary and public health officials and researchers in the capital city of Dakar to help define a local research agenda that is relevant to women farmers and their families and livestock—an approach that is in line with a new USAID operational model for U.S. development assistance in Africa.

During the second visit, UF and Senegal team members visited three public health and veterinary posts along the Senegal River to assess the local research capacity and community support to implement this project.

“The UF team was very well received by community leaders and public health and veterinary officials,” Hernandez said.

Team members hope their research will help health policymakers find local solutions to improve the nutritional status of women farmers, their families and their livestock.

UF veterinary students will have the opportunity to work with UF and Senegal team members in research and capacity-building projects with a concentration in One Health.

“In addition to putting into practice their veterinary and public health skills, the students will have the opportunity to enhance their cultural awareness and communication skills in an African country that is striving to stay current in an increasingly sophisticated world economy,” Hernandez said.

Participants from the college include Hernandez, Dr. Heather Walden, a parasitologist, Dr. Sarah Reuss, and Dr. Fiona Maunsell, veterinary clinicians. Also on the team are Dr. Alyson Young, an anthropologist from the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Adegbola Adesogan, an animal nutritionist from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The Senegal team includes medical officers from Senegal’s Ministry of Health and veterinary medical officers from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Institute of Agricultural Research.





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