On 11-12 February, 2017, students from the Department of Public Health Medicine at Penang Medical College (PMC) and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) conducted a field attachment trip to Sungai Tiang in Belum forest — one of the world’s oldest rainforests located in Perak, Malaysia. The trip was part of a research grant from the Malaysia One Health University Network, a network under the USAID One Health Workforce project, to study the knowledge, attitude, and practices, and potential interventions in response to zoonotic infections primarily transmitted by dogs among the Jahai community in the area. Being cognizant of the fact that the Orang Asli of the Jahai people are a marginalized tribe living in the forests of the jungle, which contributes to problems with stray dog populations in their community, the researchers conducted this study among this group of indigenous people to develop One Health intervention strategies to break the chain of zoonotic infections transmitted by dogs among them.
The Jahai are generally hunter gatherers and use dogs for hunting purposes, however, due to uncontrolled breeding and a lack of general predators, the dogs now number about 100 and live as strays. The dogs in the communities run around without proper care or healthcare, including vaccinations and deworming procedures. This lack of care can potentially lead to the emergence of zoonotic infections in humans as a result of transmission through these dogs. As part of the intervention from the future One Health workforce, the students were able to instill knowledge and bring awareness of the potential morbidity and mortality associated with zoonotic infections transmitted by dogs.
The 35 students from PMC and UPM participated in the first phase of the project to interact with the community. The group met in the morning on Banding Island to start their journey to the location by house boat. The day’s project centered around a group of students performing data collection, which included a questionnaire on knowledge, attitudes, and practices of the Jahai community on zoonotic infections transmitted by dogs, while another group collected blood and swab samples from the stray dogs. In total, 175 people responded to the survey and 35 dog samples were collected. Beyond the data collection process, the students had the opportunity to share information on the awareness of potential risks associated with the stray dogs. Learning was not one sided, the students took this opportunity to learn about the Jahai community and their social and cultural structure besides getting to know each other.
The trip ended with a debriefing by Prof. Dr. Abdul Rashid of PMC and Dr. Seng Fong Lau of UPM the next afternoon. The UPM and PMC team began their long journey home with a better understanding of the human, animal, and environment interaction, and an appreciation of the importance of working together to achieve a common goal. The project also exposed the students to a community that showcased how important their work and awareness building in One Health is to certain populations.
The second phase of the project is scheduled for May as another opportunity for students and lecturers to share knowledge, experience, and skills to become effective One Health workers and ambassadors.