Biomedical Sciences

Emma Hobbs (MSc.IAH 2013 Winter Graduation)

When I qualified as a veterinarian in 2007, I was not drawn to traditional veterinary careers but was unsure of what career path I wanted to follow. A chance encounter with a group of field researchers studying schistosomiasis in chimpanzees and humans in Uganda provided the ‘light bulb’ moment for me, and I decided that “One Health” was the focus I had been looking for.

Emma Hobbs in the lab

Searching for ‘One Health’ or veterinary public health Masters programs online showed that much of the focus tended to be on food safety or disease surveillance. I was interested in a much broader range of subjects, and when I discovered The University of Edinburgh’s Master of International Health program I felt it was much more aligned with my interests.

The online, part-time structure allowed me the flexibility to manage my work, study, and life balance.  This was perfectly demonstrated in my dissertation year when I was able to take up an employment posting in Indonesia while, simultaneously completing my final year of studies. The MSc also provided extracurricular opportunities, including a ‘summer school’ in Lao PDR that gave me my first taste of South East Asia. This experience presented valuable networking that led to further opportunities in that region.

Before starting the MSc in International Animal Health I had found the prospect of postgraduate study rather daunting. However, the graduated structure of this course and the strong direction provided by the lecturers and supervisors meant that the subject matter, although challenging, was nevertheless manageable.

The MSc’s first year core subjects provided a solid foundation and we covered many concepts, pathogens and diseases in depth that were only briefly mentioned during my undergraduate veterinary studies. The second year allowed the selection of a number of elective subjects, which allowed me to focus on my specific interests such as zoonotic, vector-borne, and trans-boundary animal diseases. For the third and final, dissertation year of the course, I was able to join an Australian government-funded project investigating the prevalence of the Taenia solium taeniasis/cysticercosis complex in a village in northern Lao PDR. This parasite, known as the pork tapeworm, is a neglected zoonosis of significant public health concern in many developing countries worldwide, infecting an estimated 53 million people, and causing 28,000 human deaths every year. The results from our project (Okello et al., 2014) contributed  to the scientific knowledge base of this parasite, and a number of peer-reviewed articles were published from our data.

But much more satisfyingly, it provided the scientific justification for the implementation of an integrated follow-up intervention in this village. This involved treating the people and the pigs to break the parasite’s life cycle and reduce or even eliminate disease transmission in this community. Being able to utilize my veterinary skills and training to directly improve the health and livelihoods of real people is an ongoing source of motivation for me.

The enjoyment and intellectual stimulation I obtained from my studies with The University of Edinburgh directly led to my decision to undertake a PhD.  I started this in February 2015 as a jointly-enrolled student with the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) in St Kitts, West Indies in conjunction with the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), Antwerp and the University of Ghent, in Belgium – certainly an international student experience! 

My project sat within a large intervention-based field trial in Zambia called CYSTISTOP. This is a truly One Health project that aims to establish the ‘best fit’ package for Taenia solium control and/or elimination in sub-Saharan Africa using a combination of biomedical and sociocultural approaches. There have been several publications arising from our Taenia solium work in Zambia so far, reporting on the biomedical (Chembensofu et al., 2017), socioeconomic (Hobbs, Mwape, Devleesschauwer, et al., 2018; Hobbs, Mwape, Phiri, et al., 2019) and educational (Hobbs, Mwape, Devleesschauwer, et al., 2019; Hobbs, Mwape, Van Damme, et al., 2018) components of the project, which will continue on until late 2020.

My MSc studies equipped me very well for the challenges of being a doctoral student, and I was proud to be awarded my PhD after delivering my public defence in Ghent in November 2018. I have since taken up a position closer to home, at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria.  I am manage a small international development project looking at the potential applications of diagnostic point of care (POC) tests in developing countries. I am always happy to discuss ‘non-traditional’ veterinary careers with vet students coming through AAHL, and still enjoy keeping in touch with some former classmates and supervisors from my Edinburgh University days to swap career and life updates.

I would highly recommend the MSc in International Animal Health to anyone looking to develop and expand their knowledge and skills in One Health and veterinary public health, in order to tackle the practical animal, human and environmental health challenges that we continue to face in our increasingly interconnected world.

References:

Chembensofu, M., Mwape, K. E., Van Damme, I., Hobbs, E., Phiri, I. K., Masuku, M., . . . Gabriel, S. (2017). Re-visiting the detection of porcine cysticercosis based on full carcass dissections of naturally Taenia solium infected pigs. Parasites & Vectors, 10(1), 572. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29145875. doi:10.1186/s13071-017-2520-y

Hobbs, E. C., Mwape, K. E., Devleesschauwer, B., Gabriel, S., Chembensofu, M., Mambwe, M., . . . Speybroeck, N. (2018). Taenia solium from a community perspective: Preliminary costing data in the Katete and Sinda districts in Eastern Zambia. Veterinary Parasitology, 251, 63-67. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29426478. doi:10.1016/j.vetpar.2018.01.001

Hobbs, E. C., Mwape, K. E., Devleesschauwer, B., Van Damme, I., Krit, M., Berkvens, D., . . . Gabriel, S. (2019). Effects of 'The Vicious Worm' educational tool on Taenia solium knowledge retention in Zambian primary school students after one year. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 13(5), e0007336. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6544326/. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0007336

Hobbs, E. C., Mwape, K. E., Phiri, A. M., Mambwe, M., Mambo, R., Thys, S., . . . Gabriel, S. (2019). Perceptions and acceptability of piloted Taenia solium control and elimination interventions in two endemic communities in eastern Zambia. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, 00, 1-13. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31231968. doi:10.1111/tbed.13214

Hobbs, E. C., Mwape, K. E., Van Damme, I., Berkvens, D., Zulu, G., Mambwe, M., . . . Gabriel, S. (2018). Preliminary assessment of the computer-based Taenia solium educational program 'The Vicious Worm' on knowledge uptake in primary school students in rural areas in eastern Zambia. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 23(3), 306-314. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29314480. doi:10.1111/tmi.13029

Okello, A., Ash, A., Keokhamphet, C., Hobbs, E., Khamlome, B., Dorny, P., . . . Allen, J. (2014). Investigating a hyper-endemic focus of Taenia solium in northern Lao PDR. Parasites & Vectors, 7, 134. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693468/. doi:10.1186/1756-3305-7-134