Hi! I’m pumped to be contributing to the Uncommon Veterinarian blog. Thanks Elliott for creating this resource for the vets and vet students who are interested in less-than-traditional vet careers. Today I’m going to babble a bit about my experience with the CDC Hubert Global Health Fellowship.
Summer in Kenya
I spent 8 weeks working with the CDC influenza branch in Nairobi, Kenya. The CDC provided me with plenty of in-country support including helping me to find an affordable, one-bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood and provided me with transportation to and from the CDC offices every day.
I was officially working on human and domestic animal influenza surveillance in urban and rural areas but my position had a fair amount of flexibility and I was able to work on a variety of different projects ranging from a spina bifida investigation to visiting with the Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarians. As a vet student I loved the fact that I was able to work on both human and animal projects.
Day-to-Day Research Activities
I spent a large part of my time working on the domestic animal influenza surveillance program, which the CDC was running in conjunction with the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health in Kibera, a super-slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, and rural communities near Lake Victoria.
Much of my time in Kenya revolved around the data collection part of the project. This involved riding rusted bicycles down poorly maintained dirt roads in order to reach the rural villages and farms. The ride was kept interesting by the chickens, goats, and small children who enjoyed running across the road at inopportune times.
Once we reached our location we asked the farmers questions about the health of their animals and then took blood samples as well as nasal swabs from all of the dogs, pigs, chickens, and ducks that we found.
Completing this process in Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa, was even more interesting. Kibera is comprised of thousands of shacks and network of narrow, winding paths that make navigating the community incredibly difficult for outsiders.
Rabies Outbreak Investigation
While I was working in Nairobi, the CDC received reports of a rabies outbreak in the city of Kisumu, which is located on Lake Victoria. Rabies is a huge threat across the developing world because of the huge population of street dogs.
In the past Kenya has tried to fix the problem by poisoning dogs, which rarely solves the problem and usually creates a backlash in the community. The CDC was invited by the Kenyan ministry of Public Health to help with the outbreak response. A team of rabies specialists was flown out from Atlanta and I was able to join them and help with the outbreak response.
This was an amazing experience that involved finding the people that had been bitten by dogs, educating local public health officials about rabies prevention, assuring that the rabies vaccine was reaching the right people, and helping with the massive canine rabies vaccination program.
Since I was one of the few people who were vaccinated against rabies I got very involved with the dog vaccination program. The first day I was dropped off at the side of a road with a secretary from the Ministry of Animal Health who was responsible for filling out the paperwork, a cooler filled with vaccine, and one syringe. I quickly learned how to improvise and get work done under less than ideal circumstances. Plus it really improved my reflexes.
Overall my experience with the Hubert Global Health Fellowship was amazing and I would strongly recommend it to any veterinary students who are interested in a career in international public health. If anyone has any questions about the fellowship please feel free to post a comment or send me an email at colinbasler1 [at] gmail.com. Thanks for reading!
Elliott here again: Thanks for this great summary of your experiences, Colin. Somehow I didn’t know about the Hubert Global Health Fellowship when I was in veterinary school, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to make sure everyone is aware of this great opportunity for some unique international training. Most of you know that I have a special place in my heart for Africa and I hope to get back there for more work one day.
This is good timing for all you readers because the deadline for the next class of Hubert Global Health Fellows is February 15! Check out all the application information here. The fellowship is open to 2nd and 3rd year U.S. veterinary students who can do their 6-12 week field assignment between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014.
What questions do you have for Colin? Do you think this looks like a good opportunity for you?