24 November 2022 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Supplied
Thaba Nchu health web new
One Health Warriors with the scholar pledge cloth after scholars made a pledge to take care of their pets at St Paul’s Primary School in Thaba Nchu.

International One Health Day is held annually on 3 November. The goal of the day is to educate and increase awareness of One Health to encourage a collaborative effort between multiple disciplines, promoting the concept that the interactions between humans, animals, and the environment impact the health of people, animals, plants, and the environment.

The aptly named One Health Warriors, a student group comprising postgraduate students from the Division of Virology at the University of the Free State (UFS), was formed in 2016. The One Health Warriors annually participate in arranging a One Health event to celebrate International One Health Day. What is One Health? What zoonotic diseases should the public be aware of? How do zoonoses affect the healthcare provider? These are all questions that the student group addresses in their events.  

In 2022, the One Health Warriors targeted scholars to participate in their annual event. It is important for scholars to start learning about One Health from an early age, because most of them do not understand the importance of taking care of their pets. They are not always aware of the diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and how to protect themselves.

It is for this reason that postgraduate students from the Division of Virology took One Health awareness and science communication to the classrooms of Ratau Primary and St. Pauls Primary schools in Thaba Nchu, Bloemfontein. Grade 6 scholars were included in the events and a total of 224 learners participated in the day. 

According to Prof Felicity Burt, an expert in arbovirology in the Division of Virology and the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) – who holds an NRF-DST South African Research Chair in Vector-borne and Zoonotic Pathogens Research – and Tumelo Sekee, PhD student and research assistant in the School of Pathology, they decided to start with primary schools as they believe it is good to start teaching scholars from an early age to take care of their pets and understand the importance of One Health. 

Making the youth aware 

The focus was on making the youth aware of diseases transmitted from animals to humans, how to protect themselves from zoonotic diseases, and how to take care of their pets. They used role-play activities in which the learners were educated about the risk of contracting the rabies virus and some of the signs that may be shown by rabid dogs. The learners also got to learn about the importance of reporting any bites and getting appropriate treatment from the clinics.  

Rabies circulates within this area and is a high risk for children who play with stray dogs. They were advised about vaccines to protect their dogs against infection and thereby protecting themselves. They were shown how to remove ticks from the dogs, and the importance of not eating a dead animal whose cause of death is unknown. 

“The children were advised on the potential for tuberculosis (TB bovis) to occur in their livestock and the potential for spread to humans. Pictures were circulated among the learners showing them what a rabid dog or animal might look like and how an animal with TB bovis may present. The learners were taught about the importance of hand washing. In the finale of the event, the learners made a pledge to take care of their pets, and this was confirmed with painted hands on our One Health posters,” says Tumelo Sekee.

According to Prof Burt, One Health is an approach that recognises that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and their shared environment. One Health is not new, but it has become more important in recent years. “This is partly because many factors have influenced the way humans interact with animals (domestic and wild), plants, and our environment. These changes have led to the spread of known (endemic) pathogens and the emergence of novel pathogens and zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can spread between animals and people. The recent pandemic is an example of how zoonotic transmission of a pathogen from wildlife to humans has a devastating public health impact,” explains Prof Burt.

Positive feedback
Sekee says the feedback was extremely positive; this may be because the communication was done in the learners’ mother tongue, Setswana, which made it easy for them to understand. Says Sekee: “There were many questions and discussions after the play, which suggested that the scholars showed interest in learning about a One Health approach. The scholars were also enthusiastic about participating in future events of the One Health warriors.”

The postgraduate One Health group previously also visited schools in Botshabelo and Bloemfontein, as well as farm workers in Kroonstad. They now plan to visit other schools in the Free State so that the One Health message can reach as many people as possible.  

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