There is a lot of criticism being voiced about modern medicine and its limitations. This is clearly a nice problem to have. People have gotten so used to being protected from infectious diseases by vaccinations and antibiotics, to having broken bones fixed by surgeons under perfect anaesthesia, to having organs replaced and lost eyesight restored, that they take it for granted and only seem to notice the shortcomings of modern health care and to conveniently overlook the benefits of it. There are certainly diseases for which we haven’t found a cure yet or for which treatment methods are unpleasant and not always effective. But especially when it comes to parasitic diseases a lot of treatment options are available. If the parasites are carried to their hosts by other animals such as flies, mosquitoes or ticks, we talk about vector-borne diseases. Such diseases can be tackled by fighting the vector or the parasites, or both of them, which usually is quite efficient.
Yet despite all the progress we have made in developing treatments against these parasites and their vectors, some still remain a major threat to people and to the animals they keep. Malaria is probably the best known example of such diseases, but there are others out there. When diseases mainly affect animals and the animal owners can’t afford to pay for treatments, nobody seems to be interested in doing something about it. Animal African Trypanosomosis and East Coast Fever are good examples here. But at GALVmed we care. It is our mission to help poor livestock owners to get access to cost efficient vaccines and pharmaceutical products to protect their animals from diseases and premature deaths. This secures food and income and helps people to break the vicious circle of poverty.
And we go even further than that. Infectious diseases that travel between humans and animals can be devastating for one species, while being completely harmless for another. The tapeworm Taenia solium is one of these creatures who can very happily live in a pig without the pig even noticing it, whereas if it completes the wrong stages of its life cycle in humans, it can cause a lot of troubles, including epilepsy-type seizures. We have therefore started working on a programme to break this nasty parasite’s life cycle and get it out of pigs to prevent any further transmission to humans.
A critical part of such programmes is always the awareness about the disease. Motivating a farmer to treat his pigs when they aren’t even ill is a challenging task. That shows that a good veterinarian also has to be a good psychologist with superior persuasive powers. And it also shows that being a veterinarian is not only about animal health, but also about human health. This fact is unfortunately quite often overlooked.
Anyway, let’s not assume that having the nice problem of sophisticated hygiene standards and modern health care is common to all mankind. We still have a long way to go, so let’s keep going!
This year’s World Veterinary Day is focusing on Vector-borne diseases with Zoonotic potential. Vector-borne zoonotic diseases are becoming a major public health concern in fact scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals. At GALVmed, we work on a number of zoonotic diseases not only to protect livestock from these diseases but humans as well.