Animal agriculture is an important part of people’s livelihoods – and the economy – across the globe, with more than 19 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cows, 1 billion sheep and 1 billion pigs worldwide. The world is growing increasingly interconnected, with greater international travel and larger volumes of international trade. A significant animal disease outbreak could quickly move across the world and bring with it devastating consequences.
“To safeguard the health of our country’s valuable agricultural animals, we must help safeguard the health of animals across the globe, said Kevin Shea, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Administrator. “And the only real way to do that—to deal with significant animal disease threats swiftly and effectively, wherever they appear—is by pooling our expertise.“
APHIS protects the health of America’s more than 610 million head of livestock and poultry, and also works with veterinarians across the globe to address disease outbreaks when they arise. APHIS offers training classes to help familiarize veterinarians with ten of the most serious animal diseases. The trainings provide a global network of highly-trained individuals who can work collectively, readily identify and contain these diseases, and in turn, minimize damage to animal agriculture and people’s livelihoods.
Leading the charge to increase the number of veterinarians familiar with these diseases are Dr. Peter Fernandez, who works for APHIS’s International Services program, and Dr. Alfonso Torres, a veterinary professor at Cornell University. While they lead the class, they do not consider themselves ‘teachers’ providing instruction to ‘students,’ but rather colleagues sharing our experience and knowledge about animal diseases of economic importance. And they know just how damaging those diseases can be.
Dr. Fernandez decided to study veterinary medicine in Madrid after a Cooperative Education program at Plum Island, changing his focus from marine virology because he was intrigued by how diseases moved within and among animal populations. In his work with international colleagues, he also saw how important this type of training was to helping developing countries preserve animal proteins which could otherwise be lost to the scourges of disease. His favorite part of this course is seeing that ‘aha, moment’ when using a different approach to explaining some aspect of a disease or its epidemiology elicits comprehension and thoughtful follow-up questions.