Universities, Penn included, have a major role to play in advancing global health, combining research and education across disciplines to find solutions to urgent worldwide challenges.
In 2008, an organization formed to support these efforts, the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH), which now consists of 145 institutions and aims to leverage the knowledge produced in the realm of academia. Joan Hendricks, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, became familiar with CUGH through her work with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, which formed a partnership with CUGH several years ago. And while CUGH supported interprofessional and interdisciplinary collaboration, Hendricks noted that the perspective of veterinarians was often missing from the organization’s meetings and events. With that lack came a missed opportunity to discuss a “One Health” approach to global issues, one that considers not just human health, but how it is intertwined with the health of animals and the environment.
This year, Hendricks has taken action to remedy that omission. Working with colleagues from universities across the country, she has organized a panel discussion that will be offered as a “satellite session” at the Ninth Annual CUGH Global Health Conference in New York City. That half-day event, free and open to the public, will be held on Thursday, March 15, from 8 a.m. to noon in the New York Hilton Hotel – Midtown. The title is “Outside the Box: Addressing the Sustainable Development Goals with a One Health Approach.”
“This is an opportunity to showcase the biggest impact that veterinarians can have on global health,” Hendricks says. “And in speaking with some fellow veterinarians, we all quickly focused on livestock.”
The panel, composed of veterinarians as well as other global health experts, will take up issues around livestock and health, such as reducing the inappropriate use of antibiotics, improving production while mitigating environmental impacts, tying livestock health and vaccination—and resulting household wealth—into increased educational opportunities for girls, and training veterinarians in lower and middle-income countries to foster healthy and sustainable husbandry practices.
From Penn, Hendricks will be participating, as well Bonnie Jenkins, a visiting fellow at Perry World House who has expertise in bioterrorism, and Zhengxia Dou, a professor at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center.
Dou is eager to engage participants in thinking about both the positive and negative contributions of livestock to global health.
“We often talk about livestock through a negative point of view, and it’s undeniable that they do have a tremendous environmental footprint,” Dou says. “But I’m hoping to also bring attention to the positive side of livestock, not only in the protein they provide society but in other areas that receive less attention, such as the fact that livestock animals can consume food waste generated by the food processing and manufacturing industries, as well as by consumers that would otherwise go to a landfill and result in increased methane emissions.”
Hendricks, who is wrapping up her term as dean this summer, is hopeful that bolstering the inclusion of veterinarians into global health discussions will have a lasting legacy.
“The promise of CUGH is to bring together people from different disciplines who are really knowledgeable and incredibly well meaning and who all want to help,” Hendricks says. “If we put them in a room all together, there are sure to be a lot of interesting results.”
Attendance at the satellite session is free but registration is recommended.