Janetrix Hellen Amuguni, DVM, MA, PhD, brings a passion for her work and a unique combination of experience to her students both inside and outside the classroom. Her background spans many critical aspects of the One Health spectrum, including impacting animal and human health as a veterinarian and infectious disease specialist and instituting change as a social scientist with a focus on international and community development and related gender issues. Her focus and work provide an excellent example of a “One Health” scientist.
Gender roles, the distribution of labor, and access and control over resources all play an important part in biosecurity, including the prevention and response to infectious diseases. In the 2013-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, explains Dr. Amuguni, 75% of those who lost their lives within the first three months were women. Social scientists and anthropologists realized what was occurring. It was the women who were caring for the sick, preparing the food, and washing the dead bodies. “Beyond treating the sick patients, you must look at the roles people play in order to develop prevention strategies and training programs and to adapt protocols within societies,” she says.
Like the ingredients for a perfect recipe, Dr. Amuguni describes the various perspectives needed to successfully handle a disease outbreak. “In the past, it was the human medical doctors who responded, but if we are destroying the environment, not thinking about animal health, and ignoring the cultural or social issues, that approach is not going to be effective,” she says. This forms the basis for the Master of Science in Conservation Medicine (MCM) program at Cummings School, where Dr. Amuguni now teaches graduate and DVM students.
Dr. Amuguni’s journey to Cummings School and her passion and longing to help people began in a small village in Kenya, where her parents both worked in health care. Her mom was a strong influence—she encouraged her daughters to get an education at a time when it was not common for girls to go to school and she promoted equal opportunity for boys and girls. Although Dr. Amuguni once considered a career in social work, she instead chose to become a veterinarian.
In Africa, after earning her veterinary degree at the University of Nairobi, her early work focused on farm animals and the women who handled the livestock. She taught them the business of livestock management, while also providing training on maternal health care issues. Dr. Amuguni later pursued a master’s degree in international development with a focus on gender and community development at Clark University in Worcester, MA. After working with humanitarian organizations and pastoralist communities which supported marginalized communities in the horn of Africa, she returned to the United States to pursue a PhD in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in infectious disease at Cummings School in 2007.
Her PhD advisor and chair of the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health, Dr. Saul Tzipori, would eventually hire Dr. Amuguni, who now serves as assistant professor and the senior Africa technical lead on the USAID-One Health Workforce grant for Emerging Pandemics Threat (formerly RESPOND). As the technical liaison with One Health Central and Eastern Africa (OHCEA), a network of eight countries and 21 universities, she works with a multidisciplinary team of veterinary, medical, public health, environmental sciences, and agriculture faculty, applying a One Health approach to help these countries build the capacity to respond to emerging pandemics.
The master’s level and DVM coursework that Dr. Amuguni teaches is focused on infectious disease, global health, gender, and One Health. Because of her vast experience and connections, she is a valuable resource for her students and mentees.
“Dr. Amuguni’s command of complementary fields of knowledge in veterinary medicine, infectious disease, and gender in community development means that benefiting from her teaching is to benefit from broad, but rich and deep expertise,” says Jeanne Coffin, MCM ’12. “I’m inspired by her personal story, with its roots in rural Kenya, her focus on and care for her communities there, and her ability to steer collaborative development in One Health at governmental and non-governmental levels.”
While it is a natural fit, Dr. Amuguni feels strongly that one does not have to be a veterinarian, animal health, or human medical professional to pursue the field of conservation medicine. She describes the unique role that other professionals, like those trained in communications, can bring to the table. “Knowing how to communicate with people who do not have access to television or how best to establish health education training programs are important when dealing with pandemic threats,” she says.
With Dr. Amuguni’s animal health training and education, she has found the perfect path that allows her to build on the inherent desire she has to help animals and humans, while enhancing the lives of the students she touches each and every day. “If I can meet her high standards, I’m likely to meet anyone’s,” says Coffin.