Biomedical Sciences

Walter Okello (MSc IAH, 2013 Summer Graduation)

Walter explains how our programme has helped as a veterinarian in south east Uganda and as a research scientist in Australia.


Reflecting on my three years in the University of Edinburgh IAH programme, I conclude that the experience not only made me a better researcher, but also prepared me in unpredictable ways for my career. Through virtual group discussions with incredibly supportive classmates, and course instructors who were nothing short of champions, I was challenged to discover the ‘real world’ problems facing animal and global health. My dissertation focused on the contribution of draught cattle to rural livelihoods in south east Uganda, an area endemic for Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense as well as many enzootic tick-borne diseases. The research from my dissertation showed that animal traction is both labour saving and highly profitable. Animal diseases, for example, those caused by African trypanosomes and tick-borne infections reduced cattle output by over 20% and household income by nearly a third. This work was published in Parasites and Vectors in 2015 (Okello et al. 2015).

Solving ‘real world’ problems played a vital role in preparing me for my PhD in economics of diseases. My PhD studies focused on two areas. I returned to Tororo as part of the EU funded ICONZ project to look at the economic aspect of restricted application of insecticides and the role that the cattle trade network plays. The second half of my thesis focused on economic evaluation of integrated interventions to control Taenia solium, soil transmitted helminths and classical swine fever in Lao PDR (Okello et al. 2018).

Even though I am a veterinarian by background, the IAH program made me realize that interdisciplinary approaches are required to solve a myriad of complex problems facing the world today and in the future. Having been mostly shaped by the collegial and inventive, yet rigorous, environment at the University of Edinburgh, I found myself being innovative and creative in solving complex problems at the science frontier in ways that enabled me to build a successful research career. In my current role as a research scientist at the Commonwealth and Scientific Research Organisation (CSIRO), which is Australia’s national research agency, I work with various industries, the broader community in Australia and overseas, and I draw every day on the dispositions I developed during my time at the IAH programme.