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Global Perspectives - Maria Belu, DVM, helps lead efforts in Ethiopia

As part of the CDC Global Health Security Agenda, Ohio State led a mass rabies vaccination pilot this year in Ethiopia. It was a six-week campaign and the culmination of numerous field and classroom trainings. This work is part of a large collaborative effort to prevent and control rabies in Ethiopia.

Ohio State staff has been vital to the success of this campaign. The Global One Health initiative will be featuring their experiences in the upcoming months. Anyone interested in being part of this campaign in the future, should contact Ashley Bersani, program manager.

Maria Belu, DVM, is a veterinary public health resident at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. She joined the rabies mass vaccine campaign in Ethiopia, and the experience reinforced her passion for animal welfare and being a veterinarian.

Belu explains the importance of rabies vaccination to an owner

Belu was hired as a veterinary public health resident fall of 2016, and the rabies mass vaccination campaign in Ethiopia was Belu’s first time helping lead and shape a vaccination campaign.

Numerous challenges arose during her time in Ethiopia, including difficulties in procuring necessary supplies and vaccine, the need to euthanize rabid dogs in the field and the supervision and training of 28 local staff members. Add to this, a language barrier.

“My boss and mentor, Dr. Jeanette O’Quin, told me before I left that you never grow professionally and personally without undergoing stressful moments, and I have felt myself grow as a veterinarian, a welfare advocate and a teacher in those weeks in ways that are impossible to measure,” said Belu.

Belu led a team of seven who came to assist with the vaccine campaign and training of local staff. As a team, they were able to vaccinate roughly 7,400 dogs in two subcities in Addis Ababa (Lideta and Addis Ketema) and train 28 veterinarians, veterinary assistants and dog catchers on humane animal handling, maintaining vaccine cold chain and vaccine administration.

Belu coaxes frightened dog out of kennel

“While, I’m immensely proud of the impact we had on the community, my greatest accomplishment is in showing staff members that dogs are not something to be afraid of, but that they are worthy of our love, affection and respect,” said Belu. “Rabies is endemic in country and because of this reason, the community fears dogs.”

For Belu, watching local veterinarians and assistants who feared dogs progress from being unable to pet a dog to being able to safely and humanely vaccinate them with minimal stress is what she is most proud of during the campaign.

One moment in particular stands out to Belu. She was able to safely approach and vaccinate a dog that had been labeled “too aggressive and dangerous” by using proper technique and patience and taught her team how to do the same.

Local staff were given certificates of completion

“It took no more than three minutes, and I was able to vaccinate the dog on my own, who by the end was brushing up against me and wagging his tail happily,” she said. “I could not believe that the owners were so terrified of this dog. Though quite large, he was not at all aggressive, if approached correctly. “

The trip cemented Belu’s great love of Africa, of public health and her commitment to animal welfare.

“There is nothing else I’d rather be than a veterinarian, and Ohio State has been integral to my dreams,” she said.