Basseterre, St. Kitts – Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) announced today the appointment of Dr. Arve Lee Willingham as its first director of the One Health Center for Zoonoses and Tropical Veterinary Medicine. The center focuses on zoonotic and other infectious diseases affecting livestock production and public health, using the One Health approach. The One Health approach, as defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association, encourages the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment.
“Zoonotic diseases can spread from animals to humans or vice versa, often causing extreme symptoms,” said Dr. Willingham. “At our One Health Center, we plan to study such diseases to understand how different infectious agents affect people’s health and livelihoods, especially within the tropical and lesser-developed Caribbean region.” Dr. Willingham added that he envisions the center extending its reach to Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The center also provides RUSVM students with opportunities to participate in research projects addressing the epidemiology, socioeconomic and ecological determinants, and host-pathogen relationships of zoonotic diseases.
“Our students’ participation in these kinds of research will prepare them to play a role in two major challenges facing society: food security and emerging pandemics,” said Dr. Elaine Watson, RUSVM dean. “Veterinarians play a critical role in combating and managing these threats. The new center is an important component in our mission to educate the next generation of veterinarians, while improving the health and sustainability of the Caribbean region, crucially located on the doorstep of the Americas. Dr. Willingham’s wide international experience and his research background are central in its development.”
In his new role, Dr. Willingham will promote collaborative research opportunities with organizations around the world and encourage interdisciplinary research between RUSVM’s research centers and other veterinary medicine and public health institutions.
Dr. Willingham has traveled the globe for more than two decades, dedicating his career to understanding and combating parasitic zoonotic diseases that affect livestock and people in rural areas of underdeveloped countries. His research has received numerous awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship and recognition from the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists. Research he coordinated in Africa, funded by the Danish International Development Agency, was instrumental in alerting the international community to cysticercosis, a zoonotic disease that is carried by pigs and is emerging globally as a major preventable cause of epilepsy in humans.
Between 2010-2013, Dr. Willingham worked at the World Health Organization’s Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) based in Geneva, Switzerland. During that time, he facilitated identification and prioritization of global research needs for helminth and zoonotic diseases, as well as environment, agriculture and infectious diseases, and assisted in initiating TDR’s new research program on environmental and climate change impacts on vector-borne diseases.