EWDA Student Workshop

EWDA Post-Workshop News

How the EWDA student workshop shapes careers in One Health:

Check out a statement by one of the 2015 EWDA Workshop attendees, Martin Heilmann, on One Health and how it worked out for him to do an internship at the FAO in Rome.

FAO_Martin Heilmann

One Health, the FAO and how I got into it, a short report by Martin Heilmann

I attended the 6th EWDA workshop on Human drivers of emerging diseases in March 2015. The workshop helped me to arrange an internship at the FAO. Therefore I was recently asked to give a short statement my personal view on One Health and my FAO internship:

I am more than happy to accommodate this request but first and foremost, I would like to express my appreciation for this wonderfully organised workshop at such a beautiful place with brilliant speakers and impressive organisation. A big hand to all of them!

Allow me to emphasize some accents which surely represent my personal public health view more than the wildlife perspective. The first is directed to younger students whom are often faced with the question of how to proceed after graduating:

1.What is predictable? Nothing.

These are the words Leslie Reperant used during her speech and I think they apply to life as well. That’s at least my experience: After my vet studies, I began a PhD in tropical veterinary medicine and parasitology, which brought me unexpectedly to Uganda working for the International Livestock Research Institute. By chance I heard about the workshop through Estelle with whom I did my clinical rotation in Lyon and who is now the (past) EWDA student representative.

One of the keynote speakers during the workshop was Katinka de Balogh, a senior veterinary officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). She gave an inspiring talk about global health and the role of FAO. I felt that this was in line with my previous experiences and it encouraged me to look further into this field. And that’s why I applied for a stipend to work at FAO in Rome which finally worked out and led to an internship. Predictable? Not at all.

2.What is FAO working on?

FAO is an agency of the United Nations dedicated to defeat hunger worldwide. It is composed of six different departments to improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices around the globe. With more than 3.600 staff members it comprises various fields of work but all dedicated to ensuring good nutrition and food security.

I work in the Animal Production and Health Division which is a source of technical expertise to manage emergency responses triggered either by outbreaks of transboundary animal diseases or by natural and man-made disasters such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, civil strife etc. Both types of emergency have in common that they can severely affect livestock-related livelihoods. During my daily work I participate in the coordination and development of prevention and control strategies related to zoonotic diseases and animal production related food safety. This ranges from researching, reviewing and reporting current information on diseases and their surveillance to facilitate field work and capacity building among other country offices around the world and also exploring possibilities of One Health consultations. Since One Health was also a key aspect of the EWDA workshop let me explain this further:

3.What does One Health actually mean?

It’s fair enough to say that sixty percent of emerging diseases in humans are of zoonotic origin. But in the end every field has its own interface within the ecosystem health and it is important to define this interface specifically. In my case, I worked on vector-borne diseases which I found quite similar to food trade given that food can virtually also serve as a vector for rapid, long-distance dissemination of human health threats around the globe. On top of that it gets even more interesting when seeing the cultural dimension of food as for example in East Africa where it plays a major role not only in nutrition but also serves as a crucial source for livelihood among the poorest. This fact further ignited my interest in agricultural production and its various dimensions in food insecurity and hunger eradication within a global economy.

4.How to carry the ball?

I am not quite sure I can provide a definitive response to this question but I know that the approach must be multidimensional and includes partnerships to raise awareness first. I see FAO and other international organizations as wonderful opportunities to enrich technical skills with experiences and cultural sensitivity especially for the developing world regarding different production systems and the role of subsistence economies.

In this context I wonder sometimes how disasters could have happened in the past without human intervention. But is our time so much different, granted we are facing numerous threats, including major changes in agricultural practises, population growth, global trade and human drivers of environmental changes?

I don’t think so but one difference nowadays is that we are in possession of communication technology and global mobility which allow us to tackle such challenges as a global community in novel ways. This is not merely expedient for addressing societal needs; it is also one humankind’s moral obligations I think.

My personal key message in this workshop was simple: Holistic approaches are indispensable when facing global threats including emerging diseases. Thereby partnerships have the potential to effectively raise awareness among all counterparts. To bring this key message into use is another question but I am sure that EWDA, as a forum for the exchange of wildlife disease research and management, can majorly contribute to a paradigm shift in future.

Kind regards from Rome,

Martin Heilmann


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