PROFESSOR SARAH CLEAVELAND
WORLD leading scientist Professor Sarah Cleaveland is based at the University of Glasgow, where her research into rabies is set to eliminate the disease from the developing world by 2030.
It currently kills 59,000 people a year.
The veterinary epidemiologist, who studied at Cambridge University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of her lifesaving work on infectious diseases.
Since first arriving in the Serengeti as a volunteer in 1990, Sarah has initiated and helped undertake a mass rabies vaccination programme for domestic dogs in the region which has not only prevented hundreds of human deaths, but also protected wildlife species such as the endangered African wild dog.
Her interest was sparked after witnessing first-hand the catastrophic aftermath of a rabies outbreak. “Rabies has had a devastating impact,” she says.
“Although I came to it as a vet and knew about rabies, once I started looking into it in detail and trying to find out more about the disease in Africa, I became aware that it is such a terrible problem in terms of human health. When you hear the stories of people who have been affected it is harrowing and hard to remain unmoved.”
As well as raising awareness about the horrifying burden and scale of the disease across Africa, Sarah puts enormous personal time and energy into spearheading the establishment of what is now known as the Global Alliance for Rabies Control.
Her efforts have contributed substantially to generating awareness and developing effective approaches to control of diseases such as bovine TB, brucellosis, foot-and-mouth disease and malignant catarrhal fever.
Sarah is now Professor of Comparative Epidemiology at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine at Glasgow University and she has an impressive array of accolades under her belt – Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012; an OBE for services to veterinary epidemiology in 2014; and her election to the National Academy of Medicine in 2015.
Sarah is one of the most eminent scientists in in the world.
Sarah, who was born in Malaysia and now lives in Balfron, says her interest in rabies stems from reading the book Old Yeller, about a dog which dies of the disease, when she was a child.
“I can still remember how traumatised I was by the story,” she says. “I had thumbed the book so often – I would have been around eight or nine – that it just fell open at that story.
“I do wonder whether the seeds were planted then.”
She adds: “The sad reality why no one cares about the 59,000 people who die from rabies each year – that’s one person every 10 minutes – is because it is mostly poor people in disadvantaged communities and it is not going to kill us.
“The frustration is that no one should die of rabies. That’s where my impatience comes in.”
Sarah admits to feeling overwhelmed by her nomination for SWOTY.
“It’s a lovely surprise, I’m extremely proud,” she says.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate in the people I’ve worked with and these things are never the reflection of a single person – it is always a team.”