APHI Biostatistician Dr. Rao provides training for field veterinarians in South Asian Countries

Dr. Sangeeta Rao

Dr. Sangeeta Rao

Dr. Sangeeta Rao, a biostatistician and an epidemiologist from the Animal Population Health Institute (APHI) at Colorado State University (CSU) recently served as an external subject expert in a 3-week training program (26 November to 14 December 2012) in Kathmandu, Nepal. The objective of Dr. Rao’s involvement was to provide epidemiology and biostatistics expertise in the regional Field Epidemiology Training Program for Veterinarians (FETPV) from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) member countries. The training was organized by Regional Support Unit, UN-FAO in collaboration with Department of Livestock Services (DLS), Kathmandu, Nepal. A total of 19 trainees representing 5 countries (Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal) attended the program. In addition to Dr. Rao, there were 4 additional external subject experts and 12 internal (UN-FAO) and 4 local facilitators/ mentors. APHI, being a FAO Reference Centre for veterinary epidemiology, has been hosting Field Epidemiology Training Programs for Veterinarians (FETPV) and for public health professionals (FETP) for South East Asia for several years.

FETPV training in Nepal

FETPV trainees & facilitators in Kathmandu

Epidemiology is an essential discipline to apply the One Health principles when responding to disease outbreaks, planning for emergency preparedness, and developing disease control strategies to combat diseases especially those that are highly pathogenic with a fast spreading nature. The primary objective of the short training course in Kathmandu was to build capacity of the field veterinarians from SAARC countries in the concepts and application of epidemiology, particularly with respect to disease surveillance and outbreak investigation. “Such training is a preliminary step towards building an evidence-based approach for policy and decision making at local, national and regional levels with regards to disease surveillance” says Dr. Rao. It is well understood that field veterinarians constantly use epidemiological approaches in their field as well as laboratory practice, but these kinds of professional and focused trainings build their confidence in formulating the approaches in more technical and practically applicable manner. Dr. Rao further mentions that, “the epidemiology training emphasized the concept of a preventative approach to livestock diseases at population level rather than an individual animal level.”

Most South Asian countries have meager or no baseline data available on livestock diseases including the ones of zoonotic importance. Hence, an important outcome for the trainees was to develop disease survey plans for their respective countries. The training also focused on collecting appropriate data and synthesizing meaningful information through formal data analysis and report writing. According to Dr. Rao, who has been involved in training courses at APHI as well as in other countries, these programs create a foundation for long-term professional relationships among veterinarians who strive to strengthen their epidemiological approaches to control epidemics of infectious diseases.