New grant addresses zoonotic diseases in Mongolia

University of Florida receives new grant to address zoonotic diseases in Mongolia

By Jill Pease
Women milk horses in Tuv Aimag, Mongolia. Photo by Gregory Gray.

Women milk horses in Tuv Aimag, Mongolia. Photo by Gregory Gray.

In Mongolia, where animals greatly outnumber people, outbreaks of disease that spread between animals and humans are on the rise.

Now, with the help of a new Framework Innovation grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, the University of Florida is partnering with Mongolian agencies to train multidisciplinary teams that will develop prevention and control techniques to mitigate zoonotic disease problems in Mongolia.

The Fogarty International Center intends to fund the UF project for up to $1.5 million over a five-year period. The new project builds upon a longstanding research partnership between the University of Florida and Mongolian scientists and health officials.

Mongolia is traditionally a nomadic society, and herders live in close contact with their livestock, which typically include cattle, sheep, goats, horses and camels. In recent years Mongolia has undergone rapid change and experienced multiple epidemics of zoonotic illnesses such as brucellosis, anthrax, avian and equine influenza, rabies and tickborne diseases. The possible causes of disease spread are complex, but they may be linked, in part, to shifts toward natural resource development and urbanization.

“Due to economic opportunities, better transportation, and political and climate change, large segments of the pastoral populations in and around Mongolia have been migrating to major cities,” said Gregory Gray, M.D., M.P.H., the grant’s principal investigator and director of UF’s One Health Center of Excellence. “These human migrations have overwhelmed public infrastructure and sometimes introduced new disease problems to human and animal populations. Because of limited resources in Mongolia, there is a tremendous need for infrastructure development in the public, veterinary and environmental health sectors, including improved diagnostic laboratory facilities, stronger surveillance networks and advanced education.”

With support from the Framework Innovation grant, UF will assemble four cross-disciplinary One Health teams of American and Mongolian postdoctoral trainees. The One Health approach recognizes the link between human, animal and environmental health and seeks to bring together expertise in all those areas for public health problem-solving. Each three-person team will train at UF under the guidance of an advisory committee made up of U.S. and Mongolian researchers. The postdoctoral research teams will develop a pilot project and identify collaborators in areas such as public health, veterinary health, animal science, food safety, emerging diseases, environmental engineering, ecology and geography. The teams will then travel to Mongolia to set up their scientific headquarters in an appropriate Mongolian collaborating institution and begin their two-year zoonotic disease research project with a goal of sustainable change in Mongolia.

“This program will strengthen institutional capacity for innovative zoonotic disease training and research at the University of Florida and at the multiple collaborating health institutions in Mongolia,” Gray said. “It will also serve as a model program for similar interventions in other low- and middle-income countries.”