Cummings School Receives Rockefeller Foundation Grant

Veterinary Health Services Key to Preventing and Controlling Human and Animal Diseases
January 30, 2008

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Tara Pettinato

NORTH GRAFTON, Mass. — The Rockefeller Foundation has awarded the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University a grant to assess veterinary health services in Indonesia and consider how advanced training of Indonesian veterinarians can enhance Indonesia’s capacity to prevent and control infectious diseases shared by animals and people. The $200,000 grant was made through the Foundation’s Pandemics Initiative, which aims to promote resilience of poor and vulnerable people to emerging pandemic threats to health and livelihoods by supporting integration of fragmented systems of surveillance and response. 

“Animals are the likely source of 75% of the world’s emerging infections. In the event of a zoonotic disease outbreak, the world’s poorest people, who largely depend on animals for their livelihoods, are hit the hardest with threats of disease, malnutrition and economic destitution. At the same time, we see a divide between the fields of veterinary health and human health leading to poor communication and inefficient use of resources to detect and respond to outbreaks,” said Tara Acharya, PhD, MPH, Associate Director at the Rockefeller Foundation “We are pleased to support the efforts of Tufts University to improve community-level surveillance, responses and management of animal diseases that threaten the health of animal and human populations and the livelihoods of Indonesian families” 

The award will build upon a nationwide community-based training program for prevention and control of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Indonesia led by the Cummings School. With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Cummings School will test the effectiveness of Indonesia’s veterinary training and education system using HPAI and apply its findings to other diseases that may be transmitted from animals to people.

The Cummings School’s program in Indonesia, known as the Participatory Disease Surveillance and Response (PDS/R) project, focuses on early warning and early reaction to avian flu. Eight Tufts veterinarians and a senior administrator have worked with the Indonesian Government, non-government organizations, and private citizens to establish a nationwide, community-based network of 1,200 teams that monitor and respond to outbreaks of avian influenza. The Cummings team also assists the Ministry of Agriculture in training local government animal health officials in the basics of participatory epidemiology, poultry health, community mobilization, and disease control methods.

“The PDS/R Project in Indonesia has taught us many things about how to mobilize communities against an infectious disease outbreak, and these lessons can be applied to controlling zoonotic diseases around the world,” said Deborah Kochevar, DVM, PhD, dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Thanks to the support from the Rockefeller Foundation, we hope to expand this important public health project.”

The project illustrates the essential role of veterinarians in public health, a concept embraced by the “One Health” Initiative. This initiative unites physicians, veterinarians, public health professionals and the private sector in efforts to promote, improve, and defend the health and well-being of all species and their environments.  By fostering greater collaboration between veterinarians, physicians, and public health experts, the initiative seeks to gain a better understanding of zoonotic diseases, which can be transmitted between species.

Indonesia’s size and geography presents an uncommon challenge for public health workers and veterinarians alike. The world’s fourth-largest country, it is inhabited by about 230 million people living on 6,000 islands, and speaking 170 local languages. What’s more, most of the country’s 1.4 billion poultry are in small backyard flocks held by private citizens to feed their families.

The arrival of HPAI has tested Indonesia’s capacity to prevent and control an animal disease of major public health and economic importance. The goal of these efforts is to progressively reduce infections to poultry in order to reduce risk to people, but HPAI is currently considered endemic in 30 of the 33 provinces. The Tufts PDS/R project supports training and operations of surveillance and response teams in 165 districts across the islands Java, Bali, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi. These teams have already diagnosed and responded to HPAI outbreaks across the country. Over the next year, the project will provide refresher training to all current PDS/R teams while also expanding to an additional 150 districts on Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi.

About the Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation was established in 1913 by John D. Rockefeller, Sr., to "promote the well-being” of humanity by addressing the root causes of serious problems. The Foundation supports work around the world to expand opportunities for poor or vulnerable people and to help ensure that globalization’s benefits are more widely shared. With assets of nearly $4 billion, it is one of the few institutions to conduct such work both within the United States and internationally.

About Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Founded in 1978 in North Grafton, Mass., the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is internationally esteemed for academic programs that impact society and the practice of veterinary medicine; three hospitals that treat more than 28,000 animals each year; and groundbreaking research that benefits animal, public, and environmental health.

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