By Mary Jo Burkhard, DVM, PhD
Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine
I had the privilege of facilitating a 1.5 day workshop for stakeholders committed to the control and eradication of rabies in Ethiopia. We had approximately 70 registrants including representatives from a number of agencies such as the Ethiopian Health and National Research Institute (EHNRI), Federal Ministries, Center for Disease Control (CDC); partners including conservation, environmental, research and vaccine development groups, as well as a host of faculty and students from the University of Gondor, Addis Ababa University, and The Ohio State University.
While not everyone could make it for all of the sessions on both days, we had 45-60 participants in each session which demonstrated the importance of rabies control in Ethiopia. Particularly when you consider that the session was held on a regional campus approximately 23 km outside of downtown Addis Ababa that required navigation through substantial traffic!
We utilized a very powerful workshop format that we at the College of Veterinary Medicine like to call “Focus Forward.” This format included overview presentations, facilitated small group discussions, identification of common recommendations by a “theme team,” and prioritized voting through participant clickers. Dr. Tamiru Berhanu, a veterinarian and lecturer at the University of Gondor (UOG), served as one of our small group facilitators. Dr. Tamiru Berhanu is one of the partners for the rabies collaborations between the University of Gondar and Ohio State. I learned that in Ethiopia, it is common to refer to doctors by their first name, so Dr. Berhanu rapidly became known to me as Dr. Tamiru. Once I figured out the Ethiopian way of addressing people, it became a lot less confusing to sort through our excel spreadsheets of the participant list!
We had four main topics to cover in the workshop: surveillance and reporting, how to identify people exposed to rabies and develop standards for immediate care of bite wounds, controlling rabies in the dogs and other animals, and education for both urban and rural areas. During the breakout sessions, diverse teams of experts discussed these critical topics. One of the strongest themes that arose in all of the sessions was the need to include traditional Ethiopian healers in the process by combining culturally-accepted, traditional methods of treatment and training of traditional healers with rabies vaccination programs and current medical treatments for bite wound care.
Even though I spent nearly all of my time in the workshop rooms, I learned a lot about Ethiopian culture just from listening to the discussions and hearing the recommendations. However, I am also looking forward to seeing more of Addis Ababa over the next couple of days now that the conference is over and personally experiencing more of the Ethiopian culture!