Career goal: As a veterinarian, I am interested in the One Health concept which is the ideal of a collaboration between medical doctors, veterinarians and ecosystem biologists to protect populations' health and the environment. I would like to pursue a career in global health, with a focus on surveillance and emerging zoonoses’ outbreak response.
Internship outline: Soledad conducted a field epidemiology research project with the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand. She carried out a cross-sectional study of Brucellosis and Q fever among livestock in Sa Kaeo, a Thai province at the border with Cambodia. Brucellosis and Q fever are two bacterial zoonoses that can be transmitted from livestock to farmer. The aims of the study were to determine the seroprevalence at the herd-level for cattle, sheep and goats, identify risk factors associated with herds’ seropositivity and evaluate the presence of poor management practices that might represent a risk for spillover infections to humans. The importance of livestock trade between Cambodia and Thailand was also explored.This study will be foundational to the potential implementation of community-based surveillance among both farmers and their animals.
Value of experience: This internship allowed me to combine and apply to the real public health world the epidemiological skillset acquired both with my degree in veterinary medicine and the first year of the master program at Yale School of Public Health. I also got to appreciate what it is to work with a team with a culture completely different than mine and to be able to adapt to a new environment. The most important thing that the people I worked with taught me this summer is that no matter how intense your workload is, being able to laugh with your colleagues in the most stressful situations is the best motivation you will ever get.
Best moment/experience: I presented my project at the end of the summer at the One Health team of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). It made me realize that I had accomplished a project over the summer that might have a bigger impact than I initially thought: the BMA health officers suggested that the design of my project should be used as a model for investigation of Brucellosis and Q fever in other agricultural provinces of Thailand.
Funding source: Downs Fellowship, SouthEast Asia Studies Summer Fellowship, Coca-Cola Foundation Grant
Data collection required teamwork and collaboration. I would often be in charge of making sure that the labels on blood tubes were corresponding to the tag number of each animal, to be able to trace back the animal in case the serum was positive for either Brucellosis or Q fever. I also took notes on the age, sex and body score (equivalent of BMI but for animals) of each individual sampled. The vets and paravets helping me in the field would take the blood samples for me most of the time because of the lack of structure for safe handling of the animals. They also conducted their annual vaccination campaign at the same time.
I am taking blood from a 4-year old cow. I like this picture because it is a perfect One Health picture: dogs and cows can both be reservoirs of Brucellosis and Q fever and farmers and veterinarians are the most at risk of being infected through inhalation, injection or ingestion via occupational exposure.
Department of Livestock Development
When my advisor from Yale, Dr. Albert Ko came (on left), we visited the head of Sa Kaeo Department of Livestock Development, Dr. Ampan Welutanti (second to the right) and Dr. Ekkarin, my mentor in the field (far right). It was a nice opportunity for both Dr. Ko and I to thank them for their tremendous help and for allowing the project to happen.
On each farm, one person from the Ministry of Public Health would accompany me to conduct an interview of the owner, in Thai, to obtain epidemiological information.
The Ministry Team
Here is part of the team I was working with this summer. We went to Kanchanaburi province (where the river Kwai is) for a meeting and took advantage of the trip to visit a little. This picture depicts really well the never-ending happiness of the team.
Presentation at the MBA
Presentation of my project to the One Health team of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration— one of the key experiences of my internship.
The Field Team
This is part of the team that helped me collect the data in the field. None of them could speak English very well and I cannot speak Thai, so communication was not always easy. They were extremely patient and understanding and did an amazing job teaching me about Thai farms’ management and helping me get good quality data.