January 2020 has been designated as “National One Health Awareness Month,” a relatively new campaign to promote awareness of organizations focused on public health, animal health and environmental health collaboration in the U.S.
The Senate passed a bipartisan resolution (Resolution 462) in mid-December 2019, citing holistic approaches needed to address growing global human health issues, including antibiotic resistance that both physicians and veterinarians are working on to minimize the use of antibiotics in people and animals.
Here in Hayward, two local residents, Vallie Szymanski and Carolyn Ascher, are working to bring awareness in Sawyer County. Ascher is the president and Szymanski the executive vice president and co-founder of the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness organization (OCSA), established in 2009 and based in St. Charles, Illinois.
OCSA has a strong focus on the human-animal bond and the approach known as One Health parallels that fundamental belief: an all-inclusive, co-equal collaboration between physicians, osteopaths, veterinarians, dentists, nurses and other scientific-health and environmentally related disciplines. The work involves the American Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, American Association of Public Health Physicians, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. National Environmental Health Association.
In essence, OCSA’s tagline, “Fighting Ovarian Cancer with Animal Passion” sums it up: they embrace the human-animal bond and use the One Health approach to share the silent symptoms of the killer disease, using leaders in science and health disciplines to raise awareness.
To raise funds and awareness, OCSA hosts an annual 5K Dog Walk & Fun Run with dogs and owners walking and running. The event is co-chaired by OCSA board members veterinarians Kurt Klepitsch and Kristin Junkas.
Some of the local awareness efforts OCSA has accomplished include a booth at the Birkie Expo, becoming a supporting sponsor of the Musky Festival and Fall Festival, underwriting of two feline spay and neuter clinics for Northwoods Humane Society, a “Teal Time” awareness event at the Blackiron Grill, sponsoring skiers in the Birkie, formation of the Hayward Area Advisory Board, HACC membership and more.
“We hope to add a branded OCSA event, inviting pet owners and their four-legged friends to celebrate International One Health Day in 2020,” Szymanski said.
Also this year, OCSA will sponsor five racers/skiers in February’s Birkie, she said.
Ovarian cancer kills more than 22,000 women each year in the U.S. alone, and the five-year survival rate for Stage 4 cancer is only 17 percent. Its silent symptoms often elude early detection, but dogs may be the key to bringing early detection and therefore early treatment and survival to women with ovarian cancer.
OCSA also supports the Penn Vet Working Dog Center’s ovarian detection program, donating an annual $5,000 for the hiring of a veterinary student intern. Student interns play an essential role as part of the training team and work with canines and experts in canine medical detection, according to Szymanski.
“One Health is a very old concept, but with ever-increasing technological innovations and fragmentation into distinct disciplines, our interactions, collaborations and ability to keep the big picture in focus have gotten lost along the way. One Health is our ‘ray of hope’ for the future,” said Dr. Cheryl Stroud, executive director of the One Health Commission.
Indeed, the most basic relationship — that between people and animals — may well lead science and technology to certain cures.
Turns out “man’s best friend” may be women’s salvation.