Safeguarding the health of people and animals with epidemiology training

14 June 2023
Gold standard training for frontline vets and animal health professionals
As part of the University of Sydney led Asia Pacific Consortium of Veterinary Epidemiology (APCOVE), our scientists in the Sydney School of Veterinary Science are providing epidemiology training for the region.

APCOVE is led by the University of Sydney and includes veterinary epidemiologists from all veterinary schools in Australia and New Zealand, one veterinary school from the US and organisations from seven countries in the Asia Pacific. Associate Professor Navneet Dhand, Professor Annette Burgess and Associate Professor Jenny-Ann Toribio are joint directors of APCOVE.

“Emerging infectious diseases pose a major threat to health security, as shown by the Covid-19 pandemic. We established APCOVE in 2020 to build animal health workforce capacity in the Asia Pacific region to detect and respond to disease outbreaks and control such emerging diseases impacting human and animal health,” said the Project Leader, Associate Professor Navneet Dhand.

“Pre-border biosecurity is very important to protect Australia from emerging health threats and is based on strengthening disease prevention and control abroad, especially the activities of field veterinarians in our neighbouring countries throughout the Asia-Pacific. Knowledge of animal diseases and actions to control them in these countries is only as good as the capacity of these frontline veterinary epidemiologists,” said Associate Professor Jenny-Ann Toribio.

Associate Professor Navneet Dhand underlines the contribution of such training to regional health security.

“Over 75% of the emerging infectious diseases have an animal origin. So, if we want to protect humans against such diseases, we must look for these diseases at the human-animal interface. And to achieve this, we need a trained animal health workforce to conduct animal disease surveillance and outbreak investigations. That is what we have done in this project,” said Associate Professor Navneet Dhand. 

APCOVE visiting fellows

APCOVE visiting fellows at the University of Sydney (l-r): Geraldson A Navarra, Melanie Flores Pescadilla, both from the Philippines, and Elaine Hevoho, from Papua New Guinea. 

“We have spent the past three years strengthening epidemiology training programs in Southeast Asia through the development of 36 eLearning modules and case studies and the provision of online training to over 90 veterinary personnel during 2022,” said Professor Annette Burgess.

“The most recent round of training in 2023 involved 33 trainees conducting hands-on epidemiological projects related to their work supported by in-country mentors, with 10 of these trainees then selected for visiting fellowships to Australia,” said Professor Annette Burgess.

The Sydney School of Veterinary Science contributed to hosting three participants who won visiting fellowships to Australia as part of the APCOVE program.

Dr Victoria Brookes, epidemiologist at the University of Sydney who trained some of the APCOVE Fellows, said, “The Fellows spent a month in Australia, learning skills and gaining knowledge from our epidemiologists in the vet schools throughout Australia. We were able to ensure that their project outcomes will have direct benefits to animal and human health in their home countries.”

Melanie Flores Pescadilla

City Veterinarian, Bais City, Negros Oriental, Philippines.

As a member of the Philippine College of Veterinary Epidemiology, Melanie Flores Pescadilla found out about the APCOVE program through the college president Dr Carolyn Anne Benigno, the country mentor for APCOVE.

“The best part of the training program is that it has increased my interest in veterinary epidemiology. I did my project on biosecurity as a strategy for prevention and control of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the Philippines. These approaches can be applied to other trans animal boundary diseases (TADS) that pose threats to food security, the economy and, in worst cases, could infect human beings (zoonoses). The training made me realise that as a government veterinarian and a frontliner to any disease emergencies, we should capacitate our technical capability and broaden our disease control perspective to a wholistic level,” said Melanie.

“I have also really enjoyed sharing experiences with program participants from other countries, to find out what the animal health and veterinary epidemiology landscape is like in their countries, I also enjoyed all the hands-on and data analysis training with my host mentors Marta Jover-Hernandez and Suman Gupta.”

Geraldson A. Navarra

Veterinary Quarantine Officer, Bureau of Animal Industry, Department of Agriculture, Philippines

Geraldson is also a member of the Philippine College of Veterinary Epidemiology, and like Melanie, found out about the APCOVE program through the college president.

“We have been looking for a way to update epidemiology knowledge in the Philippines, so we are organising for Philippine vets to do the APCOVE training,” said Geraldson.

“My project was on African swine fever, which has had a devastating effect on local swine farmers in the Philippines. I did data analysis on information from farmers and case data, to examine how this disease is occurring and will occur in future in one province in the Philippines. I’m continuing to fine tune the study and working with Navneet Dhand and Peter Thompson, and I’m hoping we can publish the results as a paper.”

“The best part of the program is being exposed to different training at the University of Sydney, especially the training I’ve received in data analysis. Also, meeting people from other countries to share ideas and interests has been great, and we will continue to network as a group.”

Elaine Hevoho

Technical Officer, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority, Papua New Guinea

Elaine heard about the APCOVE program through the principal epidemiologist in PNG, who is involved in APCOVE and encouraged her to apply.

“My project was on Japanese encephalitis in pigs, which is a mosquito-borne disease that mainly affects pigs and waterbirds, but can affect humans. We do not have surveillance in place in PNG for this disease, and we also do not have a vaccine for it for humans, so it becomes important to study to what extent the disease is in PNG,” said Elaine.

“I have loved the whole program experience. I really enjoyed the online modules, as I have a passion for epidemiology. The whole experience of doing the hands-on project was a great learning experience. Coming here for the fellowship and meeting the other fellows, and our academic mentors has been fantastic. The leadership training we received as part of the program has really helped me to step out and try to influence people, using the leadership skills I have learnt.”

Elaine Hevoho with pigs

Visiting fellow, Elaine Hevoho, conducting her study with pigs in Papua New Guinea.  


Katynna Parry

Marketing Communications Senior Specialist (Science)
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