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Rwanda Fellow

Marie Fausta Dutuze

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20.02.2024

Meet the Rwandan scientist working to eliminate Rift Valley Fever

Dr Marie Dutuze is using One Health interventions to prevent and treat Rift Valley Fever, which has been known to devastate entire herds of cattle.

Dr. Marie Fausta Dutuze has dedicated the past decade to studying the epidemiology of zoonotic infectious diseases. She focuses on Rift Valley Fever which can devastate entire herds of cattle and is known to cross over and infect people. A veterinary scientist, Dr Dutuze is leading research to find lasting solutions for farmers.

Her approach is centred on One Health interventions which take into account related issues arising from and contributing to zoonotic diseases, including antibiotic resistance, climate change, pesticide use, and land use change, which could dampen prospects of a food-secure future. In this interview, the Sustainable Land Use Fellow at the African Food Fellowship discusses the role of research in reversing the trend, and why every actor in the food supply chain needs to play their part.

Who is Marie Fausta Dutuze, the food system leader?

I am a veterinary epidemiologist working on the One Health approach to food systems transformation, with a focus on zoonotic infectious diseases. I have a PhD from Louisiana State University (USA) and a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine both from Ecole Inter-Etats des Sciences et Médecine Vétérinaires de Dakar (Senegal).

I currently work at Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) as a senior lecturer and One Health Thread Coordinator. I also serve as the current faculty senate chair. I have also worked at the University of Rwanda and Jomo Kenyatta University as a lecturer and researcher.

Tell us more about your work concerning One Health. Why is it important to the food system in the context of Rwanda?

My responsibilities at RICA include teaching One Health courses in the three-year RICA undergraduate program in conservation agriculture and conducting research with other RICA collaborators. I also coordinate One Health activities through student engagement, academic and technical staff professional development, extension, and public outreach.

One Health is a collaborative approach that recognizes the interconnectedness between human, animal, and environmental health. This approach is essential to transforming food systems in Rwanda. When we look at food safety, for instance, all stages of food systems, from production, processing, distribution, marketing, consumption, and waste management play a role. Factors like zoonotic diseases, antibiotic resistance, water quality, climate change, pesticide use, and land use change all affect the safety of our food. One Health addresses all these interconnected factors and brings together the stakeholders working on them to collaborate and achieve food security and food safety.

What’s the one problem that you are currently working on, and why does it matter for the food system?

My primary research focus is the epidemiology of zoonotic infectious diseases, a field I have dedicated the past decade to studying and continue to actively pursue. Specifically, I have worked on the epidemiology of Rift Valley Fever and other related viruses, which occur seasonally and cause devastating losses to farmers and the country in general. Zoonotic diseases represent a significant challenge to the food system. Their occurrence is associated with low production of food which affects food security and livelihoods. For example, during the 2018 Rift Valley Fever outbreak, the government banned the trade and movement of meat and milk. This did not only disrupt the food chain but caused significant economic losses and contributed to food insecurity in the country.

Zoonotic disease threats are not new in Rwanda, especially in the Eastern part which is a key livestock production basket. In what ways could the work of researchers translate into projects and policies that help deal with these threats?

Yes, the Eastern part of Rwanda is vulnerable to pathogens – especially vector-borne ones with zoonotic potential – given its geographic characteristics such as low altitude, high temperature, and the presence of multiple water bodies. To address this challenge, research is integral.

Researchers like myself identify causing agents and patterns on how genetic materials change over time according to different factors and study their effects to come up with prevention measures that fit our context. In addition, we gather and analyze lessons learned from other Rift Valley Fever outbreaks in Rwanda or elsewhere. Collaboration between researchers and decision-makers is needed in identifying research needs, communicating findings and recommendations, and executing recommendations.

Dr Marie Dutuze

I have a good and continuing collaboration with different internal stakeholders such as government institutions, including Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board and Rwanda Biomedical Center, as well as universities such as the University of Global Health Equity and the University of Rwanda.

How are you nurturing the next generation of veterinary professionals who are enthusiastic about One Health?

At RICA, we use experiential learning where students learn by doing. In the field of animal production specifically, students spend more time on farms performing different activities such as animal feeding, bedding, milking, health checks, pasture, etc. This helps them to have a good understanding of the reality of a farm and how to practically solve challenges while making the farm thrive.  

One Health is a thread in the RICA curriculum, which means it is embedded in all our courses across the three-year program. In addition to these, we equip our students with critical and strategic thinking, problem-solving, leadership, communication, and entrepreneurship skills. We believe these skills help them to become leaders and stay adapted to the ever-changing world.

How is the African Food Fellowship setting you up for success?

The African Food Fellowship has enhanced my understanding of food systems in Africa and is expanding my ideas of how One Health principles can be applied in different stages of food systems for the overall goal of food security and food safety. It also sparks my curiosity as an educator about exploring the roles that young generations can play in creating a healthy, inclusive, and sustainable food system.  In addition, I am learning a lot from other people working on food systems around the world.