Taking the world stage
Marguerite Pappaioanou, DVM, MPVM, PhD, a retired captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, sounded the same alarm 11 years
ago when she spoke to veterinary students at University of California-Davis in a talk titled "Improving Global Health in the
21st Century: Veterinary Medicine Steps Up to the Plate to Protect and Promote Human Health and Well-Being." Her topics in
that address mirror Palmer's today—zoonotic disease, antimicrobial resistance, the delicate but dangerous balance between
public health and the developing world's need for animal protein.
Today, Pappaioanou says the global challenges are no less onerous. It's a battle Pappaioanou has been fighting for decades.
She joined the Centers for Disease Control in 1983 and has conducted research in Bolivia, Mexico, Cameroon, Cyprus and the
Philippines. She now serves as the CDC liaison to the Food and Drug Administration for food safety. In February she moderated
a panel in Bangkok, Thailand, telling the audience that outbreaks of zoonotic disease could be stopped if authorities would
just cooperate across borders.
Forging cooperation and political will are also roles veterinarians need to play on the world stage, she says. While making
a case for the strengths veterinarians bring to the table, she has charged the profession in the past with being reluctant
to provide leadership on controversial issues and risk speaking out—waiting to be invited by others to participate fully on
the global front.
"I spent many years working with other professions and and you just didn't see them hanging back," she says. "They'd just
do it. They'd see a need and they didn't wait to be asked."
However, she says, the veterinary profession is making progress, particularly in veterinary schools where alliances with public
health and human medical schools are more prevalent and among recent graduates who are opting for the sort of work Palmer
Obviously, Palmer didn't need to be cajoled to get involved. He thinks, as Pappaioanou does, that veterinarians should be
part of the global think tank addressing these daunting problems. Their biomedical training is precisely the expertise needed
in Kenya and Nigeria and elsewhere, he says, to help improve human health and to search for novel solutions to problems like
rabies, developmental stunting and antimicrobial resistance.
And he thinks many younger students entering veterinary colleges just need nurturing to break outside the norm of clinical
practice and devote their careers to these broader issues. But he's not so hopeful about the way many veterinarians have been
reluctant to take their talents to the dance.
In fact, he uses the same metaphor as Pappaioanou to describe the role veterinarians have been reluctant to play.
"If you are a professional," Palmer asks, "are you going to stand at the corner of the dance hall and wait for somebody to
ask you to dance? If you do, you're not getting the job done. You've got to actually step out there and make these things
happen. I think we need to do a better job of taking the talents of our profession and encouraging veterinarians to push beyond
those limits and not be afraid to use not only their biomedical training but their full understanding of the issues, of political
systems and economics, across the board."
In fact, he emphasizes, the health and future of the planet require nothing less than that.