Up to five students in The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Summer Research Program are chosen each summer to be supported for international research to work on projects in various parts of the world.
Second-year veterinary student Sarah Waibel is spending her summer in Gondar, Ethiopia, to continue the “Rabies Elimination Outreach Project,” which has been funded by Ohio State’s Outreach and Engagement since 2013. Ethiopia has the world’s second-highest human rabies incident rate, which makes it a One Health global preference location to help address and eliminate the disease.
In the U.S. it is commonplace to have our pets vaccinated for rabies – an effort that has decreased the country’s human rabies cases to about 2 or 3 per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Ethiopia, there are an estimated 1,456 human fatalities per year according to Rabies and Infections of Global Health in the Tropics (RIGHT), a partnership between Ohio State, the CDC, University of Gondor and Ethiopian Public Health Institute. Dogs are the largest transmitters of the disease, accounting for nearly 95 percent of all human rabies cases in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Although many wild animals can transmit rabies to humans, we tend to interact with dogs more, especially in Ethiopia where dogs are known to roam freely around communities. Therefore it’s believed that vaccinating the dog population will significantly reduce human rabies cases.
Last summer, the dog population in Gondar was estimated by the RIGHT team, which included another Ohio State student in the Summer Research Program Alexandra Medley. The 2014 team recorded the number of dogs observed on a representative sample of the streets by surveying people in 13 urban, semi-urban and rural areas of the city. Now that researchers have this information, Waibel will be working on surveillance and monitoring of rabies cases in Ethiopia to better understand what the effective vaccination rate of dogs is to create widespread immunity, she said.
Waibel will additionally be working with the CDC on surveillance monitoring of reported bites and rabies cases in Ethiopia. She’s also studying Mycobacterium bovis, a bacterium that causes tuberculosis in cattle. Humans can contract the disease by drinking unpasteurized milk, which is a common practice in Ethiopia. Her principal advisors are Dr. Wondwossen Gebreyes, professor of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Director of Global Health Programs for The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Jeanette O’Quin, clinical assistant professor in Veterinary Preventive Medicine.
“I’ve always had a fascination in finding out how and why things work,” Waibel said.
She will be discussing what she and her team found at the Third International Congress on Pathogens at the Human-Animal Interface (ICOPHAI) in Thailand this August.
The effort is shared by many partners, including the Ohio State Colleges of Veterinary Medicine, Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Public Health; the University of Gondar; Ethiopian Public Health Institute; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Federal Ministry of Health and Agriculture, Ethiopia; Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and the Pan African Union Vaccine Institute.