#Ethiopia2015: When the heart overflows, it comes out through the mouth.

11784025_10207303807932931_86362059_oWe have satisfaction tinged with sadness today, as our short course came to a close.

I hope the students found it as much fun as I did, as we discussed communication messages and how to get them out into the world. We had a wonderful give and take with lots of questions and discussions.

Two days just did not feel like enough.

We capped off our afternoon with lunch at the Four Sisters–second time, it was so good!–and a shopping excursion across Gondar securing scarves, baskets, coffee and an Ethiopian soccer jersey.

We are making friends all over the place, as my student, Dan, is exchanging numbers with some local teens to meet up for a soccer match.

Tomorrow starts our focus group testing of rabies messages to see if we can come up wit a campaign that might help change behaviors toward vaccination of dogs against rabies, preventing bites and caring for a bite properly should it occur.

There are no words to describe how privileged we feel to be part of this One Health Task Force, and we are not sure how to repay all the kindness we have experienced, especially from our wonderful guide and host Mustafa. Our only hope is that he will join us at Ohio State soon, so we can return the hospitality.

It’s amazing that in such a short time, a place so far from home can feel like home.

Ameseginalehu (thank you) Ethiopia.

2015 @Ohio State #OneHealth Summer Institute: Better an egg this year than a chicken next year.

Day one of our two-day Communication short course is in the books, and I think went pretty well.

We had about 25 people who came from all areas of the university, they seemed both engaged in and enthusiastic about our topics—which included how and why we communicate, the different forms communication can take, and the ways in which communication can be impacted by external factors.

Our session lasted about 90 minutes before a tea and cake break, and we resumed anther 90 minutes before calling it a day with a “homework” assignment:

  • To report back what media our Ethiopian friends consume and how they consume it.

We are all fascinated to learn consumption habits in a city where Internet is scarce and smart phones are still rare.

Once clear example of that was during our course time, where everyone sat and listened—no fiddling on phones, checking email, surfing the web.

As much as I encourage tech in the class, it was refreshing to have an audience so engaged–not worried about something external, to watch the questions and realizations form on their faces, to make eye contact with each one.

View from the Goha Hotel (from TripAdvisor).

View from the Goha Hotel (from TripAdvisor).

After lunch at the Goha Hotel, where were treated to the loudest and most drenching rain we have ever seen—complimented by one-quarter inch balls of hail—we met with the veterinary students who will help us this week with our focus groups on rabies messages. We went over our posters and messages, and are excited to collect data on whether our messages work—or not.

When I was in Ethiopia last year, we spent just two days in Gondar, and I am overjoyed we are getting to immerse in the environment and culture here. Yesterday we walked the streets during the day and into the evening when we had dinner at a local pizza restaurant.

It is clear the people work hard, but they also know how to rest and relax in ways few Americans do. It’s amazing still to watch people just “be”—quietly sitting without a phone or device or even book in their hand.

They are present with their friends and family in a way few of us can imagine.

I hope to emulate it when I return home but fear my life treadmill will quickly ramp up to a sprinting pace. My goal when I return is to channel my Ethiopian friends and, at least for a little while, learn to just “be.”

2015 Summer Institute: When one is prepared, difficulties do not come

A beautiful Gonder morning has broken on our first full  day in Ethiopia. The initial night spent on  any international trip feels long, but in Gonder the night opens up in ways that assail all the western  senses.

ethiopia-day1Amharic prayers are called out in the darkness, as the scent of smoke curls in tendrils under every door frame,  around the head, into the nose. Jet lag prompted my collapse into sleep at 8 p.m. and to then jolted me awake at 2 a.m. An entire novel later, I put on the now much-appreciated Ethiopian Air sleep mask and drifted in an out of seep until 9:30 local time.

Today’s goal: Finalize the week’s goals.

Our Communication short course starts Tuesday with the Basic Tools of Writing, What is Communication and Messaging Types. We continue Wednesday with looking at different Media Types, PR and Developing Communication Plans.

Amid our course, we will conduct focus group testing on a sampling of rabies messages and posters we have developed to try and encourage behavior change , including:

  1. Avoiding dogs that may carrier rabies.
  2. Seeking treatment if exposed to rabies.
  3. Vaccinate dogs against rabies.

Culturally, we have some challenges. A 2013 study showed an estimated annual rabies incidence of 2.33 cases per 100,000 in humans and 412.83 cases per 100,000 in dogs, , with dog bite the source of infection for all fatal rabies cases. (Jemberu, Molla, Almaw and Alemu, 2013)

Although most people are familiar with rabies, animal vaccinations are not required like they are in the U.S. Dogs are not seen as part of the family as in the west, and vaccines are often not sought for them—even among veterinarians who own dogs. Those people exposed by a bite go to traditional healers, not doctors, and kids, especially boys, have a high risk of both exposure and death.

But knowledge is a call to action accepted by a community are key to addressing any health issue, and we hope we can make a difference in both areas with our study.

The chance to immerse in this community is a gift. There is purity in its spirit and energy in its people that I have never felt anywhere else.

On my last visit, I included an Ethiopian proverb to every post, and I will continue my own personal tradition this week. For our first day, let’s try this one:

When one is prepared, difficulties do not come.

As our adventure begins, I believe and hope we are prepared to contribute to his amazing community and, hopefully, make a difference.

Think Globally: Experiences Abroad Provide Perspective on Life

It is human nature to get used to the routines of life. Commuting to work, the morning coffee, walking the dog, and hundreds of other daily rituals create a level of comfort within our increasingly hectic lives. Being born in America provides an inherent level of comfort. While there is poverty in the United States, most Americans are born into a system of privilege that is not accessible in many areas of the world. Our daily rituals and comforts become second nature, while in other parts of the world these “minor” parts of our day are elaborate luxuries. For example, the United States has a health care system that provides a high level of care inside pristine facilities that contain the latest health technology available to treat and prevent diseases. We don’t think about this, we expect it. We get sick, we go to the doctor, and in most cases we get well. We have a growing culture of preventative health care that promotes healthy living and leads to early detection and a higher rate of successful treatment with many cancers and other diseases. While many countries also share a strong health care system, there are millions of people throughout the world that do not have this luxury. Again, we don’t think about that when we are taking advantage of the health care system, we take it for granted that the system is in place and it will always be there when we need it.

Working in higher education, I see students of all ages, ethnicities, and races expanding their knowledge each and every day. The facilities and resources available to faculty and students in the United States are the best in the world. If you can think it and dream it, you can probably get access to an expert that will help you learn to do it yourself. Similar to our American health system, students and faculty often take this infrastructure of knowledge for granted. There is amazing comfort in academia in the United States with freedom to study and be whatever you want to be, as long as you can financially afford the dream. While our college students are learning in the traditional sense within the confines of this comfortable system, many of them are not learning with a global perspective. The experience that comes from visiting a foreign country and getting outside the umbrella of comfort in the United States provides a valuable perspective that will make a person grown not only in knowledge, but humanity and compassion for others.

While visiting Ethiopia as part of the Global One Health initiative, I was surrounded by many opportunities to see, hear, smell, feel, and experience things that made me contemplate my own realities and expectations. While meeting with doctors I heard stories about the growing epidemic of pediatric cancer patients in Ethiopia, how many cases of cancers are not being detected until it is too late, how access to the needed treatment is not available when needed, and I saw medical facilities that were inadequate to meet the growing demand of the population. While meeting with veterinarians I heard and saw cases of animal diseases that aren’t being treated because of a lack of awareness & understanding and instances of diseases transferring from animals to humans because of contaminated contact.

At the same time I saw and heard a spirited population that is passionate about life, with a rich culture and heritage that is beautifully embraced and celebrated. I saw a level of appreciation for collaboration and the sharing of ideas that I don’t see on a daily basis in the United States. Ethiopia is a country of 96 million, with a median age of 16, who are living in an environment of rapid growth, where building and expansion is outpacing the capacity of the infrastructure, which in turn causes issues from traffic gridlock to water contamination from industrial runoff. In the past seven years, the number of colleges and universities in Ethiopia jumped from three to thirty-three! They live a reality that is vastly different than that of the average American.

As I climb back into my own daily routines in the USA and at OSU, I do so with a different perspective and a greater sense of love for my family, my job, my country, and my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University. It is my wish for all OSU students to take the opportunity to study abroad and for OSU faculty and staff to engage in global projects. It will truly change your life and open pathways to be energized by collaborating with others in a way that will make a huge impact on the lives of others. Go Bucks, Be Global!



Ebola a stark reminder of link between health of humans, animals, environment

By Emily Caldwell
Ohio State Research Communications

COLUMBUS, Ohio – For many, global public health seems like an abstract and distant problem – until the Ebola virus is diagnosed among people in our midst.

Though no one would call the Ebola pandemic a good thing, it has presented an opportunity for scientists to alert the public about the dire need to halt the spread of infectious diseases, especially in developing and densely populated areas of the world.

“What often seems like an abstract notion becomes very concrete when a deadly virus previously contained in Western Africa infects people on American soil,” said Wondwossen Gebreyes, professor of veterinary preventive medicine at The Ohio State University. “It does create a certain sense of urgency and awareness that this world is much smaller than we think.”

Gebreyes is the lead author of an article published in the Nov. 13, 2014, issue of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases that makes the case for accelerating efforts to put “One Health” into action. One Health refers to a strategy to more fully understand and address the links between animal health, human health and the environment.

Read more at Ohio State’s research news site >>

One Health Ethiopia featured in news article

Our One Health program was mentioned yesterday by The Columbus Dispatch in an article on Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Here’s an excerpt:

“About 75 percent of emerging diseases originate from animals,” said Dr. Wondwossen Gebreyes, the director of the infectious-diseases molecular epidemiology laboratory. “That’s why our work in veterinary medicine is crucial, not just to save animal life but also to save human lives.”

With growing interest in that link, Ohio State now offers a degree that can be completed in four years by combining a two-year master’s in public health with a four-year doctorate in veterinary medicine. Graduates can fill the demand for veterinary experts at agriculture companies and government health departments.

“They will be detectives of diseases, from the animal side,” said Dr. Armando Hoet, the coordinator of OSU’s veterinary public-health program.

Students learn how to wear protective gear to deal with Ebola, anthrax or other infectious diseases that can pass between humans and animals. They learn about bioterrorism and that 80 percent of agents that can be used as infectious weapons spread from animals.

“We train professionals to deal with those diseases both in the animal side and human side, and to prevent transmission from one population to the other,” Hoet said.

A summer program has started sending students to Ethiopia to look for ways to help prevent the spread of rabies. Other projects study whether salmonella bacteria strains from around the globe act differently and how influenza jumps from pigs to people at Ohio county fairs.

Read the full article on the Dispatch website >>



Greif neonatal program featured in news story


Earlier this year, clinical staff from Ohio State’s Greif Neonatal Survival Program brought their expertise to Ethiopia during our One Health Summer Institute.

The team was recently featured in a news story from the College of Medicine about the program’s growth since its founding in 2012.

You can also read their Ethiopia-based blog posts here and here.

Congrats to the Greif Neonatal Survival Program for its impact on saving lives!

Patience is a virtue that can be learned – in Africa


By Jacquelyn C.A. Meshelemiah
Associate Professor, Ohio State College of Social Work

“This is Africa!”

I have heard the expression, “This is Africa!” repeatedly over the last week while conducting research here in Gondar, Ethiopia.

I came here to collect data from Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) on Tenofovir, a microbicide gel used to prevent HIV infection. It is in clinical trials in South Africa. The data collection is part of joint research project among Ohio State’s Colleges of Social Work and Nursing and the Department of Social Work at Gondar.


Me (left) with Eden Begna, a 2014 social work graduate from the University of Gondar.

We most certainly hope to pilot Tenofovir in Ethiopia should the second trial in South Africa confirm the original results.  It will be a few years in coming, but we are conducting the research here to assess Ethiopia’s readiness for Tenofovir gel in the future.

The people I’ve interviewed include social workers, nurses, public health personnel, internists, HAPCO workers, OB/GYNs, health extension workers, and other relevant personnel. My colleague, Mr. Semalegne Kendie Mengesha, and I collected a lot of data!


I’m interviewing Dr. Mengistu Mengesha

What I received was far more than rich data. I received an important lesson on time and patience.

Gathering rich data from 12 KOLs in Gondar took months of proposal writing/IRB prep work,  weeks of pre-scheduling semi-structured interviews, contacting more than 25 potential KOLs, double and triple confirmations of appointments to complete the interviews, and then bracing for the “Wait.”

Despite confirming appointments just hours or even sometimes just minutes before a confirmed appointment, Mr. Semalegne and I often found ourselves waiting, waiting, and even more waiting more than 50% of the time for participants to arrive at the agreed upon destination.

I found this pattern to be very surprising and initially very frustrating. My reference to the Biblical character Job became a daily ritual. (Job is known for his extreme patience.) Although the demands for my patience were nowhere nearly as intense as what was required for Job, I had to dig deep for my patience.

At the same time, my waiting resulted in numerous fruitful conversations about norms related to Ethiopian culture.  So, rather than perseverate over what I was repeatedly exclaiming as “Loss time!!!”   I decided to spend time trying to understand why time was relative and how waiting could be used constructively.

Eventually, I decided it was best to stay put  when a participant was running late, even if it meant waiting 20, 30, or 45 minutes for the participant to arrive.  Besides, it did not make sense to shuffle back and forth between the hospital and Taye Belay hotel in a bajaj.

Again, many participants were on time.  It was the other 50+% who showed up late or not at all that resulted in contact with more than 25 participants just to get the 12 I had intended to interview. All of the no-shows did eventually text or call within one to six hours after our appointments. That gave me some comfort and increased my patience, just a bit.

By the end of my research week, I was psychologically prepared to wait, and with patience.  I knew, based on the earlier interviews that we had completed, that we were going to get rich data and the undivided attention of the research participants once we were able to sit before them and start the tape -recording.

Now back to my point: “This is Africa!”

Yes, it is. Time is relative for most. It is not an attempt to be disrespectful or inconsiderate. It is what it is.


From left, Solomon Getu, me, Ajanaw, and Semalegne Kendi Mengesha

I got the research done, formed some new relationships, developed some patience and learned what “This is Africa!” means.

I love Africa – all of it – even the part that makes me want me to scream and say, “Let’s start on time,” but then again, what is “on time” for me is not always the same thing for others.

“This is Africa!”


From left, me with Addisu and Asmech.

Collecting samples from camels in the Awash Rift Valley


By Kelsey Gerbig
Veterinary Medicine student at Ohio State

Our summer research projects with Addis Ababa University took us to the Rift Valley in the Afar region of Ethiopia.

Kelsey and Giant Tortoise at Awash National Park

Kelsey Gerbig with a giant tortoise at the Awash National Park.

My focus is on Trypanosoma evansi and diagnostic techniques for practical and efficient identification of this blood parasite in camels.


Used for meat, milk and transportation, camels play an important role in the lives of the pastoralists in the Awash Rift Valley, and results from this project will provide an idea of the prevalence of this disease in camels in the Afar region.


Map credited to Kmusser, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

We left our hotel room early on Thursday to travel east to where the pastoralist tribe was currently living. The pastoralists are a nomadic people, who move with their animals to find grazing land and water throughout the year. On our way, we admired the gorgeous views.

Wildlife in Awash

The tribe that agreed to let us sample from their herd owned cattle, goats, and camels. We were quite taken aback at the size of their camel herd – close to 200!

Camels and Pastorals

We geared up to collect samples. Disposable gloves, shoe covers, and N95 respirators were donned. Even though we had limited contact with the camels, we wanted to take as many precautions as possible to avoid contracting zoonotic diseases.

Currently, it is fasting season for many in Ethiopia, and our helpers from the pastoralist tribe grew tired as the morning went on.

In the end, we were able to collect blood, feces, and respiratory secretions from 51 camels.


Camel Fecal Sampling

At the end of our work, I couldn’t resist taking out my digital camera to document our experiences that morning. As soon as I began snapping pictures, the kids started posing so that they could see themselves on the digital screen. Even some of the men joined in, posing with their weapons and camels!


We would like to say thank you to Dr. Nigatu Kebede and his laboratory technician, Nega Nigussie, for arranging our sampling trip and assisting with sample collection. Our summer research projects would not be possible without their help!


Flooding in the surgical suite during spay-neuter program in Gondar

By Maria Belu
Ohio State Veterinary Public Health student

Is that water coming in?

It was the first thought that popped into my head when I looked up after taking the heart rate of my recently extubated dog in recovery. It was the last of an amazing six days that I had spent taking part in a sterilization and rabies clinic in Gondar, Ethiopia.

We were there to serve the local community by offering spay/neuter surgeries at no cost to them as well as rabies vaccines. The second (and equally important) aspect of our mission was to educate recent veterinary graduates on how to perform spay/neuter surgeries through ventral approach from sedation to recovery.


Maria Belu, center

I was overwhelmed every morning by the patience of people who brought their animals to us, waiting from early in the morning to late in the afternoon for when we could fit them in. Often the need of the community overwhelmed us, and at times we had to turn dogs away.

Despite this, I’m so proud of the small effort I played alongside my fellow students: Alexandra Medley, Kelsey Gerbig, Mal Kanwal, and Ally Sterman. It was an amazing clinical experience, being able to take care of a dog from the moment they were intubated and catheterized to when they recovered.

Most of the dogs we worked with were often scared of us; thus, they could be a little more difficult to handle. This observation is what made our last day so unbelievable.

As I said, I was recovering one of the last dogs we spayed that day, and when I looked up, water was coming in through the front door.


The rain for the past 15 minutes had been deafening, but I was used to rain, so we paid it little attention. In a heartbeat’s moment, more and more water kept coming in. People around me began scrambling, taking any supplies that were resting on the ground to place high on tables.

We were laying the dogs on a mat in the corner, and the few of us recovering dogs pulled up that mat to form a kind of comical island. One of the surgeons we worked with, Dr.Terefe, looked outside the window and called out that water was rising quickly.

Our other surgeon and head director of the project, Dr.O’Quin, quickly made the decision to evacuate the surgery suite since we were at the bottom of a hill.

I wrapped up my dog in a surgery gown and lifted her off the ground. She was one of the less aggressive dogs, so I was thankful that I was carrying her.

Alexandra, sadly, was helping recover one of the more aggressive dogs. Miraculously, as if she knew we were helping her, she let Alexandra lift her up and carry her without any fuss. That was the first miracle of the day.

The second miracle was that we had no dogs in surgery as the water rose. If we had to be flooded, it was a pretty good time for it happen.


We picked up our dogs and moved toward the door. Some of the veterinary students helping us opened up the doors. The moment I stepped out, suddenly water was all the way up to my hip.

We walked out unable to see the ground under our feet, with water moving past us at a rapid pace. I gingerly stepped forward. We made it up the steps and joined some of the other university staff.

We placed the dogs on a nearby table and wrapped them up in window curtains that people brought us to keep the animals warm.

As we stood around looking like cats after an unwanted bath, with our patients wrapped in beautiful curtain, we began to laugh. It was not the end I had expected to our amazing week, but it was certainly a fitting one.