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Rx One Health

Rebecca Tomasek, Kansas State University

This summer, I had the privilege of participating in Rx One Health, a four-week course organized by the University of California Davis One Health Institute. The course took place in Tanzania, uniting a total of 21 students and young professionals from across the world. Coming from different backgrounds, with varying experiences, each person had something unique to offer the group while we learned about the many facets of One Health. Participating in this course was truly a once in a lifetime experience, one that I will continue to learn and grow from. Throughout the course, we learned about One Health through lectures, activities, simulations, and experiential opportunities.

While on Mafia Island, we learned extensively about marine conservation and challenges. Plastic pollution is a hot topic on social media, but videos and articles can often appear exaggerated, or seem irrelevant to people living in landlocked places. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to visit Juani Island to watch Green Sea Turtles hatch. Witnessing the small turtles climb through the sand was inspiring and incredible, but the trash surrounding the beach, and smashing into our legs with the crash of every wave on the shore, was heart breaking. While adult female turtles can climb over plastic bottles, discarded containers, and broken flip-flops, newly hatched turtles are too small to overcome such obstacles. I was knocked down twice by the force of the garbage and driftwood crashing against me on shore; without people looking after these turtles, would they stand a chance of making it into the ocean? This first-hand look at the human impact on marine life was eye-opening. Although I can’t remove every piece of plastic from the world’s oceans on my own, I can contribute by recycling and reducing my use of single-use plastics. I know this experience will have a continued impact in guiding my future decisions.

During our time in Tungamalenga, we had the opportunity to sample bats. In the local community, fruit bats roost in a bell tower next to a school. Prior to capturing the bats, we dressed in full personal protective equipment. We then stretched a net across two large poles, hoisting it to the proper height of the windows on the bell tower, which was difficult to coordinate through respirators, across the short distance separating the groups. When the bats flew out of the tower, numerous individuals became caught in the net. Each bat was carefully removed from the net by a team of at least two participants wearing leather gloves. This guaranteed the safety of the bat, in both restraint and freeing the wings and legs from the net. The bats were contained for surveillance, or given juice and released. In sampling of bats, we recorded their weight and gender, collected oral and rectal swabs, and drew a blood sample. Being provided the opportunity to draw blood on a bat and participate in sample collection was unique and interesting. The fragility of a bat and necessary coordination with the restrainer became very apparent in completing this task. Additionally, I had the privilege of providing a bat with juice, prior to releasing it. Watching the bat gulp down juice, similar to how my dog would, was very endearing. We then walked it over to a tree, held it upside down, and found an appropriately sized branch for it to grab onto. Overall, my experience with bats demonstrated a need for exercising caution, handling subjects carefully, and working well with a team.

We also visited Ruaha National Park during Rx One Health. During our time in Ruaha, we worked in four teams to complete surveys on giraffes and buffalo in assigned areas of the park. Specifically, we were collecting information on giraffe skin disease, including the animal demographics of the group, location, surrounding vegetation, and characterization of disease. In regards to African buffalo, we were recording the location, herd size, and individuals seen. My group rotated the individual recording all of the data, while other team members took photographs or identified age, gender, and disease status. Developing a systematic method to confirm your findings without duplicating the animal required effective communication and team coordination. When recording a herd of 12 animals who were wandering around, it became difficult to recall which giraffes had been counted and described, requiring the input of more team members and referencing to photographs. This activity was very engaging and fun, as we drove around searching for giraffes and buffalo, we also saw baboons, zebras, impala, waterbuck, kudu, and elephants. Following our data collection, we compiled the data into a comprehensive report to provide summaries by area and in total. This activity showcased the fun and difficulties involved in field work with a group.

In our final week, we broke into four groups, based on interests, and developed a project proposal for the Health for Animals and Livelihood Improvement project. My group was tied together by the broad interest in zoonotic disease. Upon further discussions, we focused our project on Antimicrobial Resistance in Poultry in Iringa. In selecting a topic, identifying the problem, developing a potential study, selecting and interviewing key informants, creating a presentation, writing a proposal, and making a budget tied together many of the interconnected one health components we had been learning throughout the course. Furthermore, given about two days to work on the capstone, we had to utilize the strengths of each group member, effectively complete a minimal literature review, and refine our plan. This activity challenged our critical thinking and strengthened our communication skills.

By participating in Rx One Health, I have strengthened my ability to work effectively in a multidisciplinary team, increased my cultural awareness, gained an understanding of how to engage communities and stakeholders, and learned how to develop and implement projects. Furthermore, Rx One Health has prepared me for my future career by broadening my knowledge base, strengthening various skills, enabling me to identify my passions, and helping me determine areas for personal improvement.

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