My apologies for the blogosphere silence, it has been a exciting and busy first week in Roma! I thought that I should catch you all up on my first week of work, and give those who are interested a bit more information on just exactly what it is the EuFMD flew me out here to do. Hang on to your hats, this blog is about to really get revved up.
I’ll get into just what my mornings look like as I walk 45 minutes from the Vatican, along the Tiber, past the Circo Massimo and Roman palace ruins, past the stern gaze of a bronze guy whose name seems to be ‘Patria’ staring down from his stony pedestal – I’ve taking to calling him shithead (for those of you who have your blasphemy tickers out, count it), which will be explained when I actually post a picture of him – and finally to the massive complex that is the FAO headquarters. For those of you who need a refresher, the FAO is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, check out their newly updated website here: http://www.fao.org/home/en/ (the title of this post is their slogan, which translates to ‘let there be bread’). On my first day, I had to walk around most of the complex to figure out where the ‘visitor’ check-in was. Lo and behold, it was right at the front of the building…
After getting through security, I called up to one of the wonderful women who have been working diligently on the more administrative and logistical aspects of my trip, Manuela. She came down to the front entrance to find me, and lead me through the labyrinth that I now spend most of my time in. Spoiler – 8 floors, one large complex with 6 sections labeled A-F. It’s a maze. Manu, my fearless guide, led me up to meet the team.
At EuFMD (the European Comission for the Control of Foot an Mouth Disease), the team is composed of a handful of veterinarians ‘on loan’ form their respective governments posting short-term stints in the name of FMD control. For more on just what it is they (and now I) do, I’d direct you to their website as well: http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/commissions/eufmd/en/. These wonderful folk are Keith (the man in charge, and the one who got me here), Eoin (he’s Irish, pronounced Owen effectively), Nadia, Gregorio, and Marko. All veterinarians, all with extensive experience and stories of FMD outbreak control in the field. For example, Gregorio, a Spaniard, was shipped off to the UK in 2001 to help manage the devastating outbreak there. He is currently in Nepal training a group of Australian vets in FMD field practices, as the Aussies have taken a keen interest in being able to respond to the disease in case it reaches their shores. Needless to say, a great group to be involved with, and the professional enrichment that will come from this summer will be tremendous.
I should mention another important player in my FAO story. His name is Ugo, a livestock economist with the organization. He and Keith are both helping me directly in my research, and when Keith leaves the office for the month of June, I’ll be switching over to working on a few World Bank-funded projects with Ugo. A wonderful man who has taken me under his wing, and is my direct tie to the majority of my income form the summer.
Okay, now that brief introductions are complete, let me lead you through a few highlights of the first day. After getting settled into my new office shared with Marko (my Slovenian compatriot) and Gregorio, Keith says there is someone looking for me. Turns out that an American vet with the organization named Dr. Ed Arza knew to look for me – we had been in touch before my arrival thanks to a mutual contact (the regional veterinarian in charge of federal affairs for the Northeast). Friends at every turn!
I started digging into the literature after having a chat with both Ugo and Keith about what they were interested in me diving into this summer. In short, I am looking into new (and perhaps radical) ways of looking at FMD control in Sub-Saharan Africa – with a focus on Ethiopia/Kenya. The disease has been controlled at a state level in these countries and there are many individuals, particularly rural farmers suffering from poverty, who lack access to any means of control. How can we remedy the situation? Our idea is to tap into a potential private market for disease control… This discussion will be continued as the work develops!
But back to the highlights: a) the FAO cafeteria is on the 8th floor, and has a view of the entirety of Rome pretty much. Yes, that means the Colosseum (which is a mere 0.5km away (they use metric here)), any and every badass church in town including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Venetian Palace, and many other highlights are well within view. Absolutely stunning. I’ll be sure to throw up a photo in a subsequent post. b) as I was leaving for the day, I saw someone who looked vaguely familiar. Ed was there, and he asked me if the two of us (this familiar man and I) had met. I said no, and Ed proceeded to introduce me to the Chief Veterinary Officer of the United States – aka the top dog in the US Federal Veterinary system. He was happy to meet me, and thrilled to hear about the work I was doing. Bam.
Day 2: I had my first experience with our daily disease updates. The animal health team at the FAO traces disease outbreaks all over the world, and we have brief 15 minute meetings at 8:45am to go over any new updates – right now there is a lot of information about the evolving story related to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the Middle East… At my first outbreak meeting, I met 6 or so vets from USDA-APHIS (US government vets, who all work for the organization Dr. Clifford heads) who are based around the world.
Day 3: Keith gives a presentation to those same USDA vets that I just mentioned regarding the work that EuFMD does, and mentions me on a few occasions in his chat with them. Specifically, he told them that I was a “pioneer of sorts,” being the first American to work with their group, and being called upon to look specifically about new policy ideas. Eoin phrased it in our conversation later as more of a: “Look! We’ve got an American too!”
Day 4/5: Serious research grinding, and the culmination of an excellent first week of work. The project is in a good place, and so am I.
PS – You remember reading that I’d cut down on post length? Funny, I don’t.