Well, our student One Health Day has come and gone.  It had all the characteristics of a flash flood.  Literally.  It’s two weeks later.  Immediately after the day, I was swept away into a torrent of Hindu festivities in Durban for my twin brother’s wedding.  After that explosion of color, drama, samosas, roti, and exquisite veggie curry, it was back to Pretoria, directly into a tidal wave of activity for the next One Health Event that was held yesterday at the NICD.

Now, I am sitting in bed with two swollen knees because Bernie ran full blast into me, knocking me over into the garden, in his blind zest to catch Jilly, who, in the mean time has worked out that if she makes a sharp corner behind or under an object (including me) Bernie will come to a crashing stop.  Guess that’s what happens if you have a giant puppy.  But at least it forces me to reflect on our Student One Health Day.

I am going to try and give you an accurate account of the day as I saw it.  But I must confess that I might not have seen it as others did.

Our objective for the day was to increase the capacity of the attendees to detect and respond to zoonotic diseases.  We decided to aim for this, by giving them the awareness material, prime them with a Pre KAP questionnaire so they could determine their level of knowledge of the 8 zoonotic diseases, put up all the answers to the KAP in pictures and posters on the walls that they could look at and read during the break session and then present each poster and finally conclude with the same KAP questionnaire to see if their level of knowledge had changed in any way.

We had 133 people in total.  There were two groups of farmers:  the one group were farmers that participated in the Zoonotic Brucellosis Study (a part of my PhD). The other group, were farmers that were identified by the community state vets as being emergent and leaders in their communities.  We then had field workers from the provincial Department of Health and provincial Department of Agriculture-Veterinary services.  We had medical doctors and veterinarians from state and private sectors.  We had university professors, and provincial managers of the Agriculture and Health departments, and other individuals who wanted to attend.  And we also had the students.  What a mixed concoction! To make it a little more fun, not everyone understood English.

Suikerbosrand is about an hour away from Pretoria. A part of the team left at 5am to avoid traffic and have enough time to set up everything.  I think, this is really the part where I take my proverbial hat off to my team.  There was so much to monitor and organize on the day: the exhibition tables, sticking up the KAP answers, the PA system, the media people, the catering, the seating for the eating area, talking to our guests, giving them the information packs, welcoming the guests who had travelled far to be with us.  I went into organizing, delegating mode and the students and my team from GDARD just pulled in, followed my suggestions and made things happen!  I am so proud of them!!

So, people started streaming in from about 8 am.  I wish I could have spent more time with each guest, but there were too many logistical things to manage, so I took each guest to someone I knew that person would be comfortable talking to before the whole event started officially.  What happened as a result, was that these people, ranging from university professors to laboratory people and managers, all started helping the students sticking up pictures and setting out mugs and just getting involved with doing stuff!  It was so much like how when my aunties come to visit my mom and they all get stuck in the kitchen doing something!

Finally, we had to start the event.  Yes, things went wrong.  The biggest thing, was that the transport for two groups of about 30 farmers did not pitch up to pick them up from the sites.  That for me, was the biggest thing we didn’t get right.  But, those farmers will be contacted and all the material will be taken to them and we will have a focus group training in the new year.  It was a bit sad, because I really wanted every person to see and meet the other people who are working with them when it comes to zoonotic disease detection and control.

Then, the program started to fall behind schedule because each talk landed up taking two to three times the allocated time because we had to translate it into at least two different languages.  That impacted on the time to eat which really can’t be postponed for too long.  Then we realized that there wasn’t enough catering spots (we only had 2), and the queues were taking too long, so people were not going to have time to visit the exhibition tables and speak to the students.  Yes, bad planning and foresight on my part.  I’ve never had to do something like this before, so it was a costly mistake but a valuable lesson.  Anyway, the students responded perfectly and starting to hand out the brochures and mugs to the people as they stood in the queues.

After tea, we did the poster presentations. If I had to be really honest, this session was actually superbly chaotic. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.  The projector died, during the first two poster presentations.  AND, it was all being filmed for future training use.  The students had to continue presenting because we were out of time.  Again, the allocated time was too short, because we had to translate quite a few times over.  Also, if there was a disease that had a recent impact in the province, the managers wanted to tell the farmers about it to make it all real and relevant.  I let them… not because they are my managers, but because it was quite a phenomenon to see them get so involved and play the part only they can play!  Then it started bucketing down and a fraudulent facebook message declaring a flash flood warning and alerting people to get to higher ground went viral within the group.  People wanted to go home.  We managed to finish all the posters and do the post KAP, although some people who had to drive far left before that.  After the KAP, many people left immediately and the remainder had lunch.

And that in a nutshell was the day.  We packed up.  All the mugs were taken, so some people took more than one…I hope they use it well and NEVER put in raw milk into that cup.

I was really afraid to look at the KAP study after all the drama of the second session.  We finished marking it two days ago.  Were we effective….?  Well… here it is:


And AFTER the drama of the second session…


Did we achieve our objective?  This group was shifted from only 35% knowing more than 60% of critical facts about 8 zoonotic diseases to 70% knowing more than 60% of critical fact.  This output in the midst of chaos and storms and with just a student effort!

My heart goes out to these people.  This for me is evidence that people are hungry and willing to absorb knowledge against all odds if it is relevant to them.  There is so many things we could have done better, but despite all that, there is one thing we got right on the 11th November 2016…. We increased the capacity within Gauteng Province, South Africa at Governmental, Private, University and Community Level to detect and respond to zoonotic diseases.  And that’s not too bad for a bunch of students 🙂