Thursday, 12 March 2009

Animal-human connectons in relation to syndemic prevention

This month's issue of Social Science & Medicine features "Animal–human connections, “one health,” and the syndemic approach to prevention," which I wrote with UCalgary colleagues Bonnie Buntain, Jennifer Hatfield, and Benedikt Hallgrímsson. Accompanying this paper is a commentary by Merrill Singer, who developed the concept of syndemics.

We call for interdisciplinary research, and we lived up to that call ourselves in writing this paper. Bonnie is a veterinarian; Jennifer is a psychologist; Benedikt is a biological anthropology; while my PhD was also earned in anthropology, but with a sociocultural and qualitative orientation. It's actually quite uncommon for sociocultural anthropologists to collaborate with biological anthropologists, so the intra-disciplinary dimension of this particular paper is also significant. I'm pleased to report that the writing process was a smooth one, and I'd welcome the opportunity to co-author with each of these colleagues again.

The paper arose out of ongoing global health research, notably in Tanzania, and the challenges that we along with our students and partners have faced in articulating the importance for human health of attending to animal health and related environmental issues. Yet as we argue in the paper, animals are also crucially important for people's health in higher-income countries too, and sometimes in ways that are unexpected and little understood. To name but one example, perpetrators of interpersonal or domestic violence often harm and threaten to harm their victims' pets.

We lean heavily on the work of Jakob Zinsstag and colleagues, and next month, the Population Health Intervention Research Centre and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Government and International Relations will host Dr Zinsstag at UCalgary.

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