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Fresh outlook on global challenges

25 May 2017
How one vet is contributing to the health and wellbeing of humans and animals

Despite the early stages of her career, Dr Anna Dean boasts an impressive list of accomplishments in veterinary epidemiology and was presented the Veterinary Science Outstanding Achievements of Young Alumni Award.

Anna Dean standing in front of the World Health Organization in Geneva

Dr Anna Dean is working as a veterinary epidemiologist with the World Health Organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Anna completed a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (Hons 1) in 2003, and while working in her first job as a veterinarian on Sydney’s lower north shore, she came to the realisation that her skills and interests could be applied to make inroads into public health.

“Although I loved working with small animals, I realised after several years of clinical practice that I wanted to contribute to the ‘bigger picture’ of the health of populations rather than working at the individual patient level,” Anna said.

Steering herself in this direction, Anna embarked upon a Masters of International Public Health at the University of Sydney. Her studies focused on public health in developing countries, and she was awarded the degree in 2008 with a research thesis in influenza epidemiology. Anna also obtained membership of the Epidemiology Chapter Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in 2009, by way of formal examination.

“During my public health studies, I became increasingly convinced of the key role that veterinarians can play in improving human health, and endeavoured to pursue a career in this field.”

Anna was drawn to the complex and contextual relationships between animals and people in relation to infectious diseases, nutrition, livelihoods and overall wellbeing, particularly in developing countries.

“I am particularly interested in the relationship between people and animals, and how this varies between different settings across the globe. In developing countries, a larger proportion of the population live in close contact with livestock, on which they may rely for their livelihoods and as a route out of poverty. However, living in close proximity with animals also brings certain public health risks," she said.

As a veterinary epidemiologist, I have the privilege of contributing not only to the health of animal populations, but also to the health and wellbeing of people.
Dr Anna Dean
Anna Dean with a baby goat in a rural community in Togo, West Africa

Dr Anna Dean conducting research in a rural community in Togo, West Africa.

“Volunteering provided me with an excellent pathway to transition between being a small animal veterinarian to a veterinary epidemiologist. I first volunteered in India, with a not-for-profit organisation, Vets Beyond Borders. I worked in the area of canine rabies control which included rabies vaccination campaigns, spey/neuter programs, and building local capacity to implement veterinary public health initiatives. My involvement with Vets Beyond Borders then extended to joining the executive board, and serving terms as president and treasurer. I also took great pride in being chosen by the Australian government’s overseas aid program (formerly known as AusAID) to volunteer through the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development program. In this role, I worked on the prevention and control of zoonotic diseases in Hanoi, Vietnam with the World Health Organization (WHO), which is the health agency of the United Nations.  

In 2013, Anna completed her PhD with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland. The institute is renowned for its experience in conducting research and implementing public health programs at the human-animal interface. Anna's PhD research was conducted in French and explored the impact of brucellosis and Q fever in West Africa. The motivation for her PhD project was to highlight the poor understanding of the impact of zoonotic diseases on rural communities and develop sustainable solutions for their prevention and control.

“Working directly with livestock-owners in rural villages in Togo and Côte d’Ivoire has been a particular career highlight.”

Anna is now working in the area of zoonotic and drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) with WHO in Geneva, Switzerland. TB is one of the top causes of human deaths worldwide and the leading cause of death due to an infectious disease.

“As a veterinary epidemiologist, I have the privilege of contributing not only to the health of animal populations, but also to the health and wellbeing of people.

“I’m currently leading the development of a global roadmap for zoonotic TB which seeks to prioritise the actions needed to combat the disease in people as well as in the animal reservoir. My work is based on a ‘one health’ approach, which considers that the health of people is intimately linked with the health of animals and the environment. In keeping with with this concept, I am working closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease

“I hope this roadmap will serve as an advocacy tool for greater attention to this disease by stakeholders including governments, donors and researchers. Mycobacterium bovis impacts not only on human health - as zoonotic TB, but also has a massive economic impact due to international trade barriers as well as drastically affecting the livelihoods of poor and rural communities through reduced milk and meat production and condemnation of infected carcasses,” Anna said.

Anna is the global focal point at WHO for coordinating assistance for conducting national surveys of drug-resistant TB in low and middle income countries in order to estimate and monitor the disease burden. This involves frequent travel to countries in Africa and Asia, as well as organising workshops to train and up-skill government staff in data management and analysis. These data are used by countries to guide policy and allocate resources to combat the global epidemic of drug-resistant TB.

Despite being in the early stages of her career, Dr Anna Dean has an impressive list of achievements. Anna is major player on the world stage of veterinary public health and epidemiology and is making significant contributions to human and animal health and the social and economic wellbeing of communities in developing countries. Her experience, dedication and approaches are inspirational for veterinary science graduates and she is a worthy recipient of the award for Outstanding Achievements of Young Alumni.

Anna is confident the graduating students from Veterinary Science have made a good choice.

“A veterinary science degree provides you with a diverse set of skills that prepare you for the different career paths that a veterinarian may choose to follow. These skills include a broad scientific understanding across different disciplines, holistic approaches to problem-solving, and the ability to make decisions using the available evidence.

“My advice for these new graduates is that it is worthwhile to get a good grounding in clinical practice before moving into other areas of veterinary science. This will provide you with invaluable skills that can be directly transferrable to other pursuits, such as  good communication, team leadership, problem-solving, and working under pressure.

“It is important to remain open-minded to the different opportunities and career paths that are available to veterinarians,” said Dr Anna Dean.

The highly significant local and global contributions of alumni were recognised at the Veterinary Science alumni awards. In addition to Dr Dean’s award, the following alumni were presented with commendations:

Dr John O’Brien

Owner and manager of the largest wholly owned Australian veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturer and distributor which is dedicated to research and development, and has products distributed in 39 countries.

Professor Emerita Julie Yager

An internationally recognised dermatopathologist committed to the quality teaching of veterinary and graduate students in general pathology, immunology and systemic pathology, along with the specialist areas of dermatopathology, respiratory pathology and surgical pathology.

Dr Harvey Westbury

An outstanding research scientist who has made a laudable and multiple award-winning contribution to knowledge in virology, animal health and specifically poultry health and management, both in Australia and internationally. He also contributed to the development of valuable laboratory investigation methods and used these to clarify the nature and ecological relationship of newly discovered viruses such as Hendra virus.

Dr Howard Ralph

A veterinarian, doctor of human medicine and anaesthetist. Howard worked as a veterinarian and human physician simultaneously, and has worked in a range of capacities overseas, including Papua New Guinea, Borneo, Indonesia and South Africa. He has an incredible history of unwavering dedication, compassion and commitment towards the care of native wildlife, founding the not-for-profit charity, Southern Cross Wildlife Care which is dedicated to the treatment and care of native animals.