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News | April 5, 2024

Navrongo Integrated Surveillance Project: DOD promotes STEM and One Health Concept in Ghana classroom

Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

Scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s (WRAIR) One Health Branch partnered with the Henry Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and Ghana’s Navrongo Health Research Centre to teach a STEM curriculum on collecting climate data for zoonotic disease prevention in three Ghanaian high schools. Through this program, the Navrongo Integrated Surveillance Project (NISP), students and scientists examined how local weather conditions, combined with disease prevalence, disease perceptions, and livestock cultivation practices, exacerbate the spread of zoonotic diseases.

Under NISP, students, teachers, and researchers installed weather stations in Ghana’s Chaina, Sirigu, and Navrongo high schools. Students learned how weather stations operate, recording temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction to understand how climate data can improve epidemiological research. Maj. Thierry Fouapon, WRAIR’s One Health Branch Associate Director, explained that climate influences how ectoparasites like insects can increase zoonotic disease transmission during certain seasons. In Ghana’s rainy season, nomadic herders are increasingly exposed to insects carrying pathogens that spread to livestock cultivated along Ghana’s porous border with Burkina Faso. Without proper protections, livestock can then infect herders.

Funded by the Global Health Engagement Research Initiative, NISP leverages the Joint West Africa Research Group-led RV466 study titled “Severe Infectious Disease: Surveillance, Risks, and Consequences in West Africa” along with entomologic surveillance, xenosurveillance, STEM engagements, and ethnographic surveys. The project is a two-phase, multi-organizational One Health approach assessing exposure to potential emerging zoonotic and vector-borne pathogens in the United States Africa Command area of responsibility. Through NISP, the Department of Defense provides AFRICOM’s Ghanaian partners with the capacity to detect and characterize biological threats and the capability to predict and mitigate outbreak potential infectious diseases.

Ali Moro, of the Navrongo Health Research Center helped students compile, transfer, and analyze data showing how warm temperatures heighten risks around certain livestock practices that can spread zoonotic diseases and their variants. A former student of Navrongo Senior High, Moro, who is a Ph.D. Environmental Epidemiology candidate, emphasized how education can empower communities to fight disease: “If we learn to take care of the environment today, the environment will take care of us tomorrow. When students see and feel weather instruments and convert units of measurement, their knowledge empowers them to apply STEM in all domains of life. These students will be our leaders in 5-10 years, so providing initiatives like NISP employs the One Health concept early.”

The NISP project results demonstrated the importance of teacher-student involvement in understanding the relationship between the environment and disease prevention. For example, installing solar-powered weather systems maintains accurate data in hot weather regions susceptible to data disruption. Fouapon emphasized how beneficial STEM education is for combating infectious diseases.

“NISP is a perfect example of going into classrooms to start integrating One Health concepts early. It helps students understand that exposure to animals can affect them through exposure to communicable disease.”