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How veterinary medicine can save the world: Part 2, protecting the planet

According to one researcher, veterinarians' understanding of issues affecting global health is unmatched—which requires their involvement on the world stage.
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Oct 01, 2013

Guy Palmer is not afraid to talk about social responsibility. He's not willing to write off the less-developed world as somebody else's problem. He's not afraid to discuss solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

He's not afraid to say these are his problems precisely because he's a veterinarian.


Tanzanian locals line up with their dogs for a village-based rabies vaccination program. At a typical village, 500 to 1,000 dogs may be vaccinated in a given day. Global animal health researcher Guy Palmer, DVM, PhD, says that with concentrated effort, rabies can actually be eradicated in sub-Saharan Africa.
Palmer, DVM, PhD, anchors the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health (named for Bill Gates' famous computing buddy and Microsoft cofounder, who donated $26 million toward the program and facility in 2010) at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Allen School's core philosophy places its researchers squarely at center of "the animal-human interface." For Palmer, that's the place where emerging diseases incubate. It's the place where antimicrobial resistance mutates. It's the place where rabies kills children and desperately poor nutrition creates physical and cognitive stunting. And, he contends, it's a place where veterinarians belong.

"Veterinarians not only have a role to play in global health and the full development of people," he says, "but they have a role they must play. That is, there are some skill sets that need to be brought to the table and veterinarians have them; they're missing in other disciplines in global health. The situation literally requires veterinarians to take leadership roles."


Palmer says a potential solution to the problem of stunting is to change the way animal protein is allocated in households—to make sure, for example, that pregnant and nursing women get eggs. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DR. GUY PALMER)
Palmer's journey to the villages of sub-Saharan Africa and other remote corners of the globe began in the middle of the American landscape at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. He was at K-State, two hours west of his boyhood home, to study private-practice veterinary medicine. But a series of mentors—Harry Anthony at K-State and Travis McGuire at Washington State—steered his interests into a broader world, especially Africa.

"I began to really appreciate the role of animals in people's daily lives and how they affect their education, their health, the stability of their communities," he says. "It brought home to me the importance of veterinary medicine. I feel quite strongly that veterinarians should not be afraid to talk about social justice or feeding the world. We have a very strong role to play and we shouldn't be shy about doing so."

The role of animals in the daily lives of people in sub-Saharan Africa isn't exactly like the human-animal bond most small animal practitioners understand so well. It's more about survival. Nutrition. Secondary education. Political stability.