Collaborative Training Program Limits Spread of Infectious Animal Diseases

As agricultural trade has become vital to the economies of many countries (including the United States), it’s more important than ever that veterinarians around the world are able to recognize and control animal diseases in their own countries to prevent their spread to animals and humans in other countries, with grave effects on international commerce.

But many countries lack key professional institutions, staff, and skills to identify, track, and control dangerous animal diseases. Now, a University of Minnesota program, ProgRESSVet, is helping to build professional capabilities in several Latin American countries.

After ten years of “conversations over coffees and beers” with colleagues in Latin America, Andres Perez, professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, has worked with CEBASEV in his native Argentina to start the extensive training program.

CEBASEV (Centro Buenos Aires para la Capacitación de los Servicios Veterinarios) is a training center founded by the National Service of Food Safety and Quality, and the National Institute of Agricultural Technology. The center’s mission is continuing education of staff of the Spanish-speaking Veterinary Services and other public and private agencies in Argentina.

Perez, who directs the ProgRESSVet program with Emilio León, co-director of CEBASEV, says they tried to avoid the shortcomings of previous consultant-driven training programs, which were in short duration and often poorly coordinated. ProgRESSVet, by contrast, is long-duration, more comprehensive, and based on international standards for veterinarians developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (known by the historic acronym OIE).

Working through the OIE, ProgRESSVet has relied on professional networks to recruit 10 mid-career students from six Latin American countries to take the eight-course online program, which includes modules on introduction to intergovernmental organizations, statistics, epidemiology, spatial analysis (such as mapping of disease spread), risk analysis, organization and administration of veterinary services, veterinary public health, and national and international veterinary policy. Each course is co-instructed by a professor from the University of Minnesota and one from Latin America.

“We want to help countries prevent, control and eradicate diseases; and that’s important, it’s actually a requirement to facilitate trade between countries,” says Perez. “And trade is the way in which many developing countries, with the right policy in place, could reach development. That’s important for U.S. industry as well, as many investments these days are based overseas and trade is interconnected among regions. So, the mission of the program is to create that capacity in the countries so they can prevent, control and eradicate diseases and therefore facilitate trade.

ProgRESSVet participants will graduate this year. The program is recruiting a similar number of students for next year, with plans to increase numbers in the future.

ProgRESSVet—the name combines the English for “progress” and Spanish for Programa Regional de Educación Sistemática de Servicios Veterinarios—hopes program participants “are the people who want to step into leadership roles in the veterinary service,” says Mary Katherine O’Brien, University of Minnesota researcher for education and outreach in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Besides building capacity among our agricultural trading partners, the program will enhance the University’s already formidable international reputation, provide international opportunities for students, and allow University faculty to study unfamiliar diseases that might someday arrive on our shores.

The ProgRESSVet training is built on the One Health paradigm that links “connections between animal, human and environmental health, and systems theory,” says O’Brien. “As the world gets smaller and more connected, there is extreme value in understanding the way that people are working, trying to build capacity, and trying to understand educational models across contexts.”

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CAHFS News is a compilation of current topics and news updates in animal health, food safety, and veterinary public health.