Center for Global Health Promotes “One Health” Concept

Professionals from all health schools at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, including veterinary medicine, have established a Center for Global Health that will promote interdisciplinary research, education, and collaboration among students and professionals. Scheduled to open Dec. 7, 2005, the Center has health research projects in motion in Uganda, Afghanistan, Ecuador, Mexico, and Thailand, said Christopher Olsen, DVM, PhD, professor of public health at the University.

“As you travel around the world and the United States [you see how] health issues directly overlap human and veterinary medicine,” Olsen said. “In order to control zoonotic disease, veterinarians, physicians, nurses, and public health professionals have to work together. Too often everybody works in his or her silo. By talking and understanding [each others’] skills we will understand how – as a group – we can promote human and animal health.”

The Center will provide educational opportunities for students and, within the next few years, professionals hope to have the curriculum online for professionals; it will disseminate information about research projects. It will coordinate global health services around the world. For example, Olsen is currently studying the transmission of influenza viruses between animal species and between animals and people. Olsen, who practiced medicine in a small town on Long Island for six years, also travels to Ecuador for three weeks with students to study zoonotic infectious diseases and how animals are perceived and used. “It’s a fascinating process to watch the understanding of my colleagues [about global health] unfold over time,” Olsen said and added, “It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had.”

The center is currently developing an interdisciplinary partnership with the University of Guadalajara to enable faculty members from veterinary medicine, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy to discuss medical topics through a videoconference venue.

On campus, students will learn how culture influences health and disease. They will hear differing definitions of “health” and “disease,” and be exposed to the codependency of human and animal health in rural areas. Ultimately Olsen hopes to have an eight-week online course available to professionals that will focus on cultural sensitivities in understanding health and disease issues.

“The purpose is to emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary activity,” said Bernard Easterday, DVM, PhD, dean emeritus of the School of Veterinary Medicine. "Health is a multi-disciplinary activity. In a sense there is really one medicine.”

As senior advisor to the Center for Global Health, Easterday believes that the only way to solve medical problems like West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza is for professionals to work together and recognize how small the world can be. “Global health doesn’t mean somewhere else than the U.S.,” Easterday said. “Once upon a time we thought it was somewhere else, but global health is at home.”