Dr. Gerald Parker, associate dean for Global One Health in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), traveled across Europe in April to give a keynote address at a military veterinary symposium and working to build strategic relationships that would allow for mutually beneficial collaborations.
In Lyon, France, Parker, Scowcroft Institute senior fellow Joseph Fair, and director for the Center for Global Health and Innovation at Texas A&M AgriLife Research Scott Lillibridge met with the director of the Merieux Foundation, where they were briefed on the foundation’s goals of “for gobal health security by establishing one health laboratory capacity in areas of the world where it really matters.”
“Alain Merieux, the grandson of the original Merieux, is focusing all of his attention to building laboratory and institutional capacity with diagnostic surveillance; (disease) emergence to response are things that they’re interested in, and those are some of the things that we happen to be interested in promoting, too,” Parker said.
“Collaborating with the Merieux Foundation is going to be pretty important,” he said. “We have already begun taking concrete steps (to solidify our relationship).”
While establishing collaborations was an important goal for the trip, from a personal standpoint, he was awestruck to have been able to be in the space where modern microbiology began.
“We were in an environment where, if you rewind the clock to the mid- to late-1800s, we were in the actual room where fundamental transformative microbiology research was done,” Parker said. “Marcel Merieux, who started the Merieux Institute, was a student of Louis Pasteur, who discovered the rabies vaccine.
“We were in this space with the grandson of Marcel Merieux who is now almost 80 years old. He still travels the world and is focused on building laboratory networks to achieve global health security for public good and societal needs,” he said. “It was really cool.”
Parker’s next big trip was to Garmisch, Germany, to give a keynote address for Public Health Command Europe at the 64thInternational Military Veterinary Medicine and One Health Symposium, where he talked about global one health security and offered recommendations for what defense and militaries should do to increase global health engagement in support of our collective health security. The audience largely comprised U.S. military veterinarians and veterinarians from 18 NATO countries.
“A big part of the symposium was looking back to 1918 and World War One for the military, a century ago,” Parker said. “I look back (to the war) too, but I also look back to the 1918 flu pandemic, and compare the impact of the 1918 pandemic to WWI. The 1918 flu pandemic is estimated to have infected a third of the global population and killed 40-90 million people. Far more were killed by the flu than were killed in battle in WW1. The potential impact of high consequence infectious diseases is often unappreciated.”
Parker said other speakers also provided key insights into the relationships between WWI and animals, including a talk based on research of WWI archives on how Italians deployed and cared for 250,000 horses during the war.
“Think about that—250,000 horses. They presented interesting statistics on horses injured in battle; once they got in to veterinary care, the survival rate was comparable to the survival rate of soldiers injured in battle, so it was really interesting from that perspective,” he said. “World War One was a pretty unique time in the maturation of what we think about today as veterinary medicine.”
He also heard a story about a forgotten battalion that used a carrier pigeon to tell their side where they were so they could be saved; the pigeon was injured as it carried its message, but somehow survived and was able to save the battalion. Following the war, the pigeon was brought to the U.S. while still alive; it is now in the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.
Most exciting, though, was the potential Parker developed with the U.S. Military Veterinary Command for establishing a strategic relationship that could include an educational experience for military veterinarians to pursue post graduate education in public health, epidemiology, food security, and even international affairs at Texas A&M.
“We’re very excited about the opportunities, both with the Merieux Foundation and also with the military vets, for any kind of strategic relationship we can establish with them, particularly on education,” he said. “My own story is I was able to get a doctorate while on active duty in the army, funded by the army, that gave me new opportunities in national security, public health preparedness, and public service. The army has a program where every year they send officers for post graduate education to get either a master’s, Ph.D., or residency training, and Texas A&M should be one of the go to places that they come to for that.”
Also during his busy month, Parker participated on the Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee Meeting in Washington, D.C., where is a member bringing his health security and biodefense expertise in advising the Department of Homeland Security.