Ashley Birakos - Tanzania

Before starting veterinary school, I had heard about the idea of One Health and I knew it was an approach that I wanted to learn more about. After attending Global Programs Day and hearing other students present on their unique summer experiences from participating in research and the Rx One Health course, I knew that this was something I had to pursue in order to learn more about the One Health approach. One of my interests was in poultry and zoonotic disease so with the help from Drs. Terra Kelly, Rodrigo Gallardo, Huaijun Zhou and with the support from the Global Programs Underserved Community Fellowship and International Summer Externship funds, I was able to pair a research project and the Rx One Health Course for my summer experience in Tanzania.

During the research portion of my trip, I had the opportunity to work with the Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Laboratory at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro. I worked with the team to collect cloacal and oropharyngeal swabs from sick chickens at the two live bird markets in Morogoro in an attempt to detect Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV). NDV is an endemic disease in this area, leading to high mortality rates of poultry, harming the livelihoods and food security for people in Tanzania. Therefore, our goal was to extract the viral RNA collected from the samples and be able to determine if the RNA extracted was NDV and then eventually sequence the genome to classify what strains of the virus are present in this region. I gained a lot of experience with doing field sampling of poultry and working with the local people at the markets. I was able to collect 128 samples from sick birds and then in the lab I performed RNA extractions on the samples. Afterward, we ran qRT-PCR for the M gene to determine which samples contained NDV. Out of these samples, 26 came back as being NDV positive. After collecting the preliminary data, we had the opportunity to report back to the local poultry vendors at the live bird market to tell them our preliminary results. I really gained a lot from working on this project because not only did I learn about the clinical signs of NDV, but this was the first time I performed any field or lab work. I also enjoyed collaborating with the people in the lab because they were very welcoming and taught me the importance of making strong relationships with the local community, because it allows everyone to work together to decrease NDV prevalence.

The second half of my trip, I went back to Dar es Salaam to join the Rx One Health course. During this month-long course, I learned a lot of valuable information and gained a lot of experience that I know I will carry with me as I continue to develop as a professional. This course had the perfect balance of lectures and in the field activities. I gained experience in field sampling and surveillance from primates, giraffes, bats, rodents and livestock. Some of my favorite experiences were meeting the Masai people and collecting samples from their livestock, assisting with a sea turtle hatching on Mafia Island, helping with multiple beach clean ups and scanning for Giraffe Skin Disease at Ruaha National Park. Out of all the hands-on experience I had, what I loved most about this course was getting to collaborate with many colleagues and faculty from all around the world. As a group coming from many different cultural backgrounds, we learned how to work together in teams and how to implement a One Health approach to tackle issues within local communities in Tanzania. We even had the opportunity to discuss our proposals with stakeholders and gain a better understanding on how policy plays a large role in implementing solutions using the One Health approach.

I’m so grateful for this experience and for my time in Tanzania. From these past two months, my time here has enriched my life for both my professional and personal development. I have had the pleasure of meeting new colleagues and mentors from all around the world that have taught me so much about teamwork and collaboration. Most of all, this experience has ignited this new passion and motivation that I have for my future and my drive to improve global health issues and learn more about its challenges and successes. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer in the beautiful country of Tanzania.

Ashley BirakosAshley BirakosAshley Birakos