Making a Difference in Global Health

Anna Czupryna, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences has spent the last several years traveling back and forth between Chicago and Tanzania, working as a member of the Lincoln Park Zoo team that runs the Serengeti Health Initiative, a project that seeks to control the spread of rabies. Czupryna’s work during the 2010 field season was supported by a Bodmer Travel Award and profiled in Milestones, a newsletter previously sent to LAS donors.

Anna Czupryna and young residents of Buyubi Village

Anna Czupryna and helpers in Buyubi Village.

Last spring, the rabies project delivered its one millionth vaccination. The project, Czupryna noted in a December 2012 three-part feature by Steve Johnson in the Chicago Tribune, has “virtually eliminated rabies transmission from dogs to humans in the villages within the 6.2-mile-wide vaccination zone around the Serengeti.”

In addition to introducing Chicagoans to the important work of Czupryna and her international colleagues, the article revealed that Lincoln Park Zoo has committed to an additional five years for the Serengeti project. The zoo has hired Czupryna as research coordinator for the SHI in Tanzania.

Her duties will include assisting with management and organization of the mass-vaccination project. “Up until now I did some peripheral stuff with them, such as providing information for grants or budget reports. If my field assistant and I were in the same place they were vaccinating dogs, we would join in and help with that, but usually we were working on my research. The new position also gives me added responsibility here, including actually managing the budget, doing reports, and applying for grants,” she said.

As part of the agreement she will be completing her doctoral project, “Domestic dog ecology in villages west of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.”

“Free-roaming domestic dogs are a wildlife conservation and public health concern because they are a reservoir for diseases such as rabies. Dog vaccination campaigns surrounding Serengeti National Park have reduced the incidence of rabies in wildlife, dogs and humans. The impact of these campaigns on dog population dynamics, however, remains unclear. My research is characterizing dog ecology to determine dog demography, welfare, and ownership practices in the context of the Serengeti ecosystem,” explained Czupryna.

“My doctoral work is related to the zoo’s general vaccination program because the research will help shape how we continue to plan and implement these vaccination programs. It will detail how many dogs are there, how many vaccines are needed, what kind of manpower is needed, how much freezer space is required. There are storage issues because in Tanzania the electricity can get a little frisky. Just starting from the simple question of how many dogs—everything trickles down from that. The work will be a nice blend. Having the experience of more management responsibility will help me down the line in terms of my career path.”

Czupryna is co-directed in her graduate studies by Professor Joel Brown and Lisa Faust, who also studied under Joel Brown and now serves as LPZ’s vice president of conservation and science. Czupryna is spending spring term at UIC, where she is wrapping up a couple of course credits and organizing the data collected during the last field season at the Serengeti National Park.

The upcoming field season, August through December 2013, will be Czupryna’s last year of data collection. Then it will be home to “write, write, write.” She hopes to have her PhD in hand in about two years.

“After that, I would love to continue working in an area of ‘One Health’ that blends conservation with public health. Research in this field helps us understand how humans, wildlife and domestic animals are intertwined and can lead to more sustainable conservation programs,” she said.

Anna Czupryna and assistant Chunde with Nangale Village children.

Czupryna and field assistant Chunde (far left) with Nangale Village children.

“Rabies is a devastating disease that can ravage human families and wildlife conservation areas. For communities already struggling with poverty, this horrific deadly disease poses a severe financial burden of post-exposure treatment, wound treatment and livestock loss, not to mention the devastating effects of human death,” Czupryna explained.

Although we may be halfway around the globe in Chicago, we share the responsibility of conserving World Heritage Sites such as the Serengeti National Park for future generations.

“In 2010, I had the humbling experience of meeting the Misozi family in Nangale village. Prior to the dog vaccination program, this family experienced first-hand the horror of rabies when a rabid hyena broke into the hut they were sleeping in and mauled two little girls—ages three and five—as they slept. These girls survived with terrible facial and body scars and deep emotional scars. No one, regardless of where they come from or what their socioeconomic status is, should have to go through that ever, especially in today’s day and age where rabies is preventable,” she said.

“Furthermore, this is a disease that can significantly impact wildlife population dynamics and can contribute to the extinction of charismatic species such as African wild dogs. Although we may be halfway around the globe in Chicago, we share the responsibility of conserving World Heritage Sites such as the Serengeti National Park for future generations.”

Czupryna also hopes to someday teach and mentor students. A role model is certainly her mentor, Joel Brown, who “has an insatiable curiosity and contagious enthusiasm. He makes even the most mundane tasks, such as computer data, seem like an adventure,” she said. “He has a way of helping you keep your enthusiasm and inquisitive spark alive even when you run into difficulties.”

Her advice to undergraduates is to “explore and discover as much as you can. If you are interested in research, volunteer and/or intern on a few different projects. Experiment, try something new. You never know where you might find your passion. Figuring out what drives you may take some time, so make sure you take advantage of all the diverse opportunities UIC offers undergrads.”

All photos by or courtesy of Anna Czupryna