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Tuesday
Sep112018

International Veterinary Experience Scholarship

As a dual DVM/MPH student, I have never had traditional goals. When people ask, usually in passing, what I want to do with that combination, there is no abrevieated way to explain One Health and the drivers of zoonotic disease transmission or my aspirations to conduct field research that propels policy and education initiatives that can improve the health of animals, humans and the environment. For me, the links between these fields have always seemed intuitive, so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to answer “What did you do this summer?” with “Vaccinated chickens in Madagascar”. Oh, right, of course, naturally.
As a dual-degree student, I wanted to find a capstone project that combined veterinary medicine and public health in the same way that I hope to in my future career. I had known about a Harvard-based researcher that works in my niche of interest for several years and although I figured it was a longshot, I reached out and asked if he might have a spot for a veterinary student on his summer team. Much to my surprise, he enthusiastically agreed both to take me along, and to serve as the primary mentor for my capstone research project.
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In Madagascar, many households rely on bushmeat as their primary source of protein. Previous research links decreased bushmeat consumption to increased anemia. However, reliance on bushmeat both increases the potential for zoonotic disease transmission and threatens the nation’s delicate ecosystems. After examining taboos and taste preferences, chicken was identified as a possible alternative protein source. However, Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV), an avian respiratory disease with an incredibly high mortality rate , is endemic to the island, making it difficult to raise chickens. As a response, the Madagascar Health and Environmental Research (MAHERY) program is now in the second year of a vaccine campaign to decrease the incidence of NDV and increase poultry production. Their hope is that increased access to a reliable protein source will decrease bushmeat consumption by Malagasy citizens, decrease zoonotic disease transmission, strengthen agriculture in the region, and protect precarious local ecosystems. In addition, chickens are typically the women’s property and asset, so this campaign also serves as a tool to empower Malagasay women.
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 Receiving the International Veterinary Experience Scholarship has helped me pursue my non-traditional career goals and to have an experience that could never be created in a classroom. Communicating enough to navigate daily life in a foreign country is always a challenge, let alone conveying medical concepts that might not be common knowledge. Still, the local veterinarian spent hours answering my endless questions about veterinary medicine, agriculture and ecology in Madagascar. In a rural area like the one I was in, the close connections between humans, animals, and the environment are more evident than ever. The people depend on the forest for life and they often house their chickens in their own homes. For them, a flock of healthy chickens might be the make the difference between a stunted child and a healthy one.
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Without the financial help of the IVEC scholarship and local grants, none of this would
have been possible and I am immensely grateful that funding opportunities like this exist. When
I think of the career I would like in the future, based around systems-thinking and creative
solutions that benefit multiple populations, I cannot think of a better way to prepare than to
jump right in. The experience that I had in Madagascar reinforces the value of personal
connections and of simply reaching out – stepping out of your comfort zone and asking to have
coffee or a conversation with a role model, or maybe even asking if they have a place on their
team, their answer might surprise you.
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Check out the SAVMANews for currently open SAVMA scholarships and opportunities.

 

 

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