U and Tufts team up, trek the globe to prevent pandemics

Over five years, the interdisciplinary group will train foreign public health and veterinary medicine institutes.

by Kelsey Christensen

Pandemics are always a threat, but sometimes their reality doesn’t sink in until there is a new outbreak.

This year’s Ebola crisis, the virus’s largest outbreak ever, is just the latest example.

But now, an interdisciplinary team of medical professionals from the University of Minnesota and Tufts University is hoping to address infectious disease outbreaks both before and after they have begun.

“There are other diseases we do not know about yet, and the question is, ‘How can we stop the transference?’” said veterinary population medicines professor John Deen, who is helping lead the effort.

Over the course of five years, students and faculty from the College of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Public Health, the School of Nursing and the Medical School — along with representatives from Tufts — will travel around the world as international partners with universities in Southeast Asia and Africa.

The One Health Workforce effort, which was allocated up to $50 million, is part of the Emerging Pandemic Threats 2 program for United States Agency for International Development.

Researchers will leave to launch the program in Bangkok on Monday, eventually moving to other locations. While there, they’ll train foreign universities to teach their medical staff how to work with animals and humans in the medical field, said organizational leadership, policy and development professor David Chapman.

“We need to help the countries prepare better coursework,” he said.

Deen said there are too few health care workers in Southeast Asia and Central Africa, so he said he hopes the project will also draw more medical professionals to those areas.

The new project will collaborate with 14 of Africa’s public health and veterinary medicine institutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

The researchers will also work with 14 faculty members from 10 universities in Southeast Asia across Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Chapman, who partly heads One Health, said global medical professionals should focus on the interspecies health link where many pandemics begin in animals and spread to people.

“If we want to intervene, we need to jump in between animals and humans,” Chapman said.

University researchers and doctors have already begun exploring that method of epidemiology, Deen said.

The University of Minnesota and Tufts University are completing another partnered five-year project focusing on pandemics, called RESPOND, said Saul Tzipori, a professor at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Tzipori is among several project leaders who will be traveling to Thailand to launch One Health’s Southeast Asian network on Monday.

“Essentially, One Health [will] support the networks we already started,” he said. “We complement each other in our background and the skills we bring to the table.”