PENDLETON, Ore. — Dr. Andrew Clark likes to use his big brain to conjure simple, user-friendly solutions to complicated problems.
Here’s an example of how Clark thinks.
Several years ago, the Pendleton veterinarian pondered the problem of rampaging bird flu in Egypt, where 35 million chickens had already been killed in an attempt to derail the disease. The virus, often passed on to people processing poultry, disproportionately affected small children and women of childbearing age even though thousands of men worked in commercial poultry operations handling diseased and dead birds by the millions.
The reason wasn’t a mystery. Each household had a flock of chickens, which roamed through yards and even inside homes. Women are the ones who generally feed and manage the birds and eventually slaughter them by cutting their jugulars.
“There is a lot of muscular movement and a death struggle,” Clark said. “Micro-droplets of virus-laden blood shoot into the air where they can be inhaled.”
Children playing nearby sometimes breathed in the deadly virus.
His solution? A large pot, a lid and hot water.
It goes this way: a woman places a chicken inside a large pot to slaughter it and quickly covers the pot with a lid. After the struggle stops, she slides the lid a crack and pours in hot water and lets it sit two minutes before de-feathering and butchering the chicken. Air samples showed dramatically decreased viral plumes.
This is the kind of quintessential simplicity Clark loves.
The veterinarian recently received an international award for such out-of-the box thinking. For this project and development of animal health programs in Africa, Egypt and the Middle East, the American Veterinary Medical Association presented him with the International Veterinary Medical Congress Prize. The organization praised Clark for his work developing guidelines for livestock disease control and cross-boundary trade of live animals. Nine countries around the Horn of Africa have so far adopted the guidelines.
“Dr. Clark has been absolutely instrumental in improving the safety of animals and humans in developing African countries,” said Dr. Tom Meyer, AVMA president. “For decades, he has worked alongside local communities and U.S. and foreign government agencies to initiate programs that are both practical and easy to implement.”
While Clark searches for simplicity, getting to this goal takes plenty of effort and experimentation.
In designing a safer strategy for chicken slaughter, for instance, Clark and his fellow researchers did lots of testing, first with plastic bags. The struggling chickens tore them with their feet, so the testers opted for a sturdy pot called a halla. With USAID funding, the researchers conducted focus groups with women, incorporating their feedback. The women assisted in designing a poster that showed the process with pictures.
In the summer of 2015, Clark helped train 900 veterinarians and thousands of home health workers to do home visits armed with flyers and rubber chickens used for role playing.
In the end a new protocol only works if it gets used by those for whom it’s intended. Women in the focus groups were asked, “Is this something you will use?”
“The women said, ‘Of course, we’ll use it — we’ve seen our friends die,'” Clark said.
One beautiful thing about such a simple fix, he said — “it’s a minor variation from what they already did.”
Clark endorses a slow and easy approach when tackling animal disease problems in foreign cultures.
“Americans are drawn to be productive. We go crashing into situations with the presumption we know best, but we don’t. The first thing to do is stop, listen and learn,” he said. “We’re dealing with people and their livelihoods. We cannot afford to make mistakes that we walk away from while they starve.”
Clark’s combination of brains and empathy make him effective.
“Dr. Clark’s approach is at once collaborative, deeply respectful and profoundly attuned to the unique needs of the populations he serves,” Meyer said.
Clark, who served as Oregon State Veterinarian until 2004, regularly takes his expertise to East Africa to prevent and mitigate large-scale animal disease.
Clark’s love affair with that part of the world began in the ’60s. He met his wife, Barbara, in what is now Tanzania where both served in the Peace Corps. They married in 1968 in a ceremony that included a wedding ring made from the cross-section of a wildebeest tail. The couple, which raised five children, remained in the country seven years before returning to Oregon for Clark’s 22-year career with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. In “retirement” he contracts with agencies such as USAID to work in Africa, Egypt and several Middle Eastern countries to do livestock disease control work.
Artifacts from his adventures dot his Pendleton home — a hedgehog hide, an elephant-hair bracelet, spitting cobra and puff adder fangs, aardvark claws, a stag beetle shell and elephant bones he gathered from the terrain. He uses one of them, a scapula, as a marker at the top of his driveway.
“Turn at the elephant scapula,” he tells people in giving directions to his home.
People should call first, though, because Clark might be off on his next mission. Soon he will head to Bangladesh on another avian influenza-related project.
Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.com