One Health Initiative Combats Infectious Diseases in Ethiopia

By Francis Pellicciaro
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern

Wondwossen Gebreyes talks with a project partner in EthiopiaLeadership abounds across Ohio State, with faculty, staff and students throughout the university taking ownership of addressing a wide variety of society's challenges. One great example is the group conducting the Ohio State-Ethiopia One Health initiative, which connects Ohio State to Ethiopian institutions, including the University of Gondar, Addis Ababa University, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute and other local and regional partners, in an effort to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and build capacity for the healthcare workforce both in Ethiopia and with Ohio State students.

The group includes Wondwossen Gebreyes, professor and director of global health programs in the College of Veterinary Medicine and faculty lead of the One Health initiative.

Gebreyes said health priorities in Ethiopia include addressing rabies, cervical cancer, tuberculosis, maternal and child health, food safety, and environmental quality that impacts most of these health outcomes. These health issues will not just be addressed by people from Ohio State. In fact, Ethiopian professionals and students have the prime responsibility. The focus of the engagement program is building Ethiopia's own strength in developing capacity for prevention and control of diseases by improving the faculty and students' capacity at Ethiopian public health institutions.

The project partners in a group photo"We teach the future teachers and professionals in those settings," he said. Courses taught by the engagement program in Ethiopia are "for the faculty members at the partner institutes."

Gebreyes said that the goal is to enable them to take care of themselves, detecting and reducing diseases before they become major problems locally, regionally and globally.

"We say work with us to teach us how to help you," said Usha Menon, a former Centennial Professor of Nursing and another member of the One Health initiative.

Menon runs a study abroad program to Ethiopia as part of the initiative. Students in her program focus on learning leadership skills, as they have to do a teaching project.

Students from many different areas of study at Ohio State come to Ethiopia, and Gebreyes said that the time spent living there allows them to think more broadly and more globally and learn about diseases they do not come across in Ohio.

"Their experience is 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week," he said.

"I like the idea of helping people in need," said Sarah Waibel, a doctor of veterinary medicine student who traveled to Ethiopia this summer with the team to learn and share her experience.

Her project is the surveillance and tracking of rabies in a local canine population, and testing the beneficial effects of the new rabies vaccine being produced in Ethiopia.

Other such projects include one that tests the feasibility of point-of-care testing for human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer; a rapid and field-deployable test against tuberculosis of humans as well as animals; and several courses that were taught by Ohio State and Ethiopian faculty members on advanced molecular epidemiology, infectious diseases, environmental health, project management, risk analysis and practical applications in public health.

The One Health team received the Heiskell AwardThe Ethiopian government is committed to expanding higher education and growing health initiatives, but the infrastructure necessary to help combat disease is weak.

Part of the reason for the Ethiopian government's interest in partnering with institutions like Ohio State is the nation's higher education situation. Over the past 10 years, Ethiopia has gone from having three universities to having 34 but as the number of universities and students has increased, the quality of education has deteriorated, as they do not have enough skilled manpower to teach at the new higher education institutes.

"That balance still is behind in terms of the quality," Gebreyes said.

There is some progress - the University of Gondar has the first Ph.D. in nursing program in Ethiopia. Considering the amount of work that needs to be done, more people are needed to partner in Ethiopia, though tremendous work has been already been done.

The effectiveness has been noticed - the One Health initiative received the 2015 Emerging International Engagement Award, one of the highest Ohio State awards for outreach and engagement, in addition to the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovative education by the Institute of International Education (pictured). Gebreyes also received the 2015 Michael P. Malone International Leadership Award from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.


A group photo of the team at Ohio State.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Ohio State hosted a six member delegation from Addis Ababa University to kick-off a new project on eCapacity building funded by NIH. Pictured are the attendees from the workshop. 



This work aligns with Infectious Disease Detection, Treatment and Prevention, one of the investment areas in The Ohio State University’s Discovery Themes initiative. This focus area centers around understanding the interactions among hosts, pathogens and the environment that result in disease, including drivers of pathogen evolution and antimicrobial resistance, animal reservoirs, host range and immunity, as well as the impacts of infectious diseases on natural and agroecosystems and a sustainable food, fiber and biofuel supply.

The Discovery Themes initiative is a significant investment in four thematic areas in which the university will make a global impact: Energy and the Environment, Food Production and Security, Health and Wellness, and Humanities and Arts. As the nation’s most comprehensive university and one of the top institutions for industry-sponsored research, Ohio State is able to collaboratively develop solutions that will transform our world.

The Ohio State-Ethiopia One Health Initiative was the recipient of an Engagement Impact Grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement in 2013.

Contact: Wondwossen Gebreyes,

Program website:

Photos courtesy of Wondwossen Gebreyes and Nicole Kraft.