Staring out at the rolling hills, an admittedly gray day in the Palouse, I reminisce about sitting on a hillside, at our evening camp, overlooking the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania and watching zebra and wildebeest wander by. It was pretty special. Some of the most spectacular moments were sitting with Felix Lankester, Paul G. Allen School for Global Health associate professor, in the back of our Land Rover as we took in the magic (and he provided names and natural history). But the journey to see our global health programs in Kenya and Tanzania was far more than that.
I was so impressed by our WSU Rabies Free Africa program. The primary carrier of rabies near the Serengeti is the domestic dog and unvaccinated domestic dogs were driving substantial disease in people (through bites) and wildlife in the area. Rabies is a preventable disease with a very effective vaccine. Allen School faculty have developed an amazing “ring vaccination” strategy that incorporates local rabies coordinators and diverse outreach methods to vaccinate dogs in these communities. Our program has substantially reduced the incidence of rabies in dogs, people, and wildlife in communities surrounding the Serengeti. Why does it work? Why is our approach special?
One reason our approach has been so successful is because we have a model that is truly connected to the region. We have four key faculty in our programs who are from and based in Tanzania and Kenya. We have hundreds of local staff who are WSU employees. This is a big deal. They helped develop the Allen School’s mission and vision and are proud to be Cougs. Rabies coordinators are local and trusted in their communities. These programs can provide early steps into science knowledge for girls and boys living in the region. What we are doing in Eastern Africa, with WSU Rabies Free Africa as the flagship program, defines public health, the very best form of health extension.
Another reason our approach has been so successful is because we have a network, a platform for science, that is transformable, buildable, and flexible. These same rabies coordinators could implement other One Health programs. Think of the possibilities! These health care visits could be coupled with other vaccination campaigns (distemper is another preventable disease in domestic dogs) or health education programs for people in the communities. What we built arose from a truly inspired and unique vision to be sustainable, cohesive, connected, and community-empowering. Global health, public health, one health—the WSU global health program defines education, discovery, and impact. It was a privilege to visit.