It has been very busy this month in Mbarara! Between meetings, farm visits, school presentations, and vaccinations, all of the volunteers have had their hands full this June.
Katelyn and Carina continue their work with SNV/FAOC to educate students about the importance of including milk in a balanced diet. They travel to many schools, sometimes visiting over 10 in one day! The work is rewarding when they are able to see the children’s smiling faces.
Olivia and Nikki also carry on with setting up the dairy business centers, presenting their progress in SNV’s TIDE business meeting. Not only were their ideas well received, but they were able to gain a better insight into some of the problems faced by the local farmers through invited speakers. The day was long, but very informative!
However, they were able to step outside the office and get their hands dirty by visiting a nearby demonstration farm, Rubyerwa Dairy Investments LTD. The business development officer, Wilber Begumya, welcomed the volunteers warmly before giving them a full tour.
Bimonthly, local farmers are invited for several training days where they are able to learn about farming practices and animal husbandry, so that they are able to improve the productivity on their own farms.
Pictured above is Uganda’s famous ankole cattle, with impressively large horns. On the right, you can see a cow which was gifted a bell around its neck, signifying it as the 100th addition to the herd.
Both Nikki and Olivia were able to take part in the demonstrations, including those around artificial insemination and cattle management.
Pictured above volunteer Olivia preforms rectal palpation on a jersey cow with instruction from technician Paul Nabaasa. The procedure is important both in placement of the sperm during AI and in checking the pregnancy status of the cow after insemination has taken place.
Finally, the month was wrapped up by the beginning of the goat vaccination campaign, spearheaded by Carina and Katelyn.
Blood draw, physical exam, and vaccination was preformed on over 300 goats spanning 3 communities, with many more to come!
After blood collection, the volunteers carry out brucella testing to identify the goats that carry brucellosis, a disease that is prominent in Uganda and causes many issues in regards to farm productivity.
Wυntεεŋa (Good afternoon) from Yua, Ghana! We’ve been in Yua for a month and a half now, and can’t believe how fast the time is passing! As per our last blog post, we had a busy first week here, getting the ball rolling on all the activities we had planned to help the community. Now that we have almost completed all of them, we can delve deeper into the components behind them.
Upon our arrival, we realized that vaccines were of the greatest interest to community members. According to the farmers, their sheep, goats, and fowl were dying in large numbers from preventable diseases, particularly during the months of March and October. Luckily, we arrived right before the next predicted bout of illnesses, thus we spent most of our time
administering vaccinations in order to help as many Yua members as possible. Administered vaccines included: Newcastle disease for fowl, Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) for sheep and goats, and Rabies for dogs.
– Newcastle disease is a contagious viral disease, that is transmissible to humans. Unfortunately, no treatment is available for the disease, but it can be prevented through prophylactic vaccines. The vaccines administered are called I-2, which are manufactured right in Ghana! We have been able to immunize approximately 2000 fowl, which include some chickens and guinea fowl.
– PPR is a highly contagious viral disease that, in Ghana, affects mostly sheep and goats. There are no available treatments for the disease, although supportive care can be given in order to aid the animal in recovery. Unfortunately, lack of funds and resources in Yua prevent farmers from being able to afford supportive care for their affected livestock, resulting in large amounts of deaths. This is why vaccination against PPR is so important for the community. We vaccinated around 1400 sheep and goats, reaching 190 different families throughout the community.
Lastly, Rabies is a viral disease that is transmissible to humans, as well as other mammals, and has no treatment available. Dogs, being a large vector for rabies, are free to roam around the community, resulting in increased risks of dog bites. Recently, there has been an international focus on eradicating rabies globally by the year 2030. In order to take part of
the global initiative, we saw no better place to start than with Yua! We vaccinated 60 dogs against the virus in the community.
While vaccinating, we were able to educate the farmers on the disease and give them some background on the organizations that brought us to them. Community members were very thankful, and came in large numbers to take advantage of the great project put forward through GAPNET and Veterinarians Without Borders.
Our next big project has been creating a fowl-rearing protocol in order to decrease deaths in young keets. Farmers have repeatedly mentioned losing large numbers of chicks at very young ages, and are unsure as to why. In order to come up with a solution, we set up an experiment where we raised half the chicks under optimized conditions within the means of community members, and the other half were raised under traditional methods in Yua.
Traditional methods allow the chicks and their mother to roam free throughout the day, to forage for their own food and water. At night, they are given shelter, and small amounts food and water. As they roam immediately after hatching, large amounts of chicks tend to die due to starvation, predation, exhaustion, and heat loss. In contrast, optimized conditions allow the chicks to be in an enclosed and safe area with their mother for the first two weeks of rearing. The chicks are then also provided with food and water, while the mother provides them with heat. All of these provisions allow the chicks to survive through their most vulnerable life stage. We are currently a week and a half into our experiment, and have yet to lose one chick using our optimized protocol.
On our time off, we were able to explore the area and spend time with the community. One of our most interesting adventures, has been to visit the Paga Crocodile Pond, where we met a 78 year old crocodile, and saw dozens of others. The crocodiles in Paga are not domesticated, but they maintain a positive mutual relationship with the locals of Paga.
Our local guide, Issaka, invited us to his sister-in-laws graduation ceremony. The ceremony was quite different than what we see in North America. Rather than robes, diplomas and hand shaking, graduating in the Upper East involves a large dancing event! Family members and friends dance up to the graduates, and give them monetary gifts to start their
businesses. We had a great time listening to Ghanaian music, and seeing the locals dance.
During my first two weeks in Uganda, I have been doing a lot of learning. I know, I know, I am supposed to bring expertise here…but I think before I can help in a foreign country, I need to understand what is happening. So here I am, in the second biggest coffee producing country, drinking tea and talking about how it is to milk cows in Southwestern Uganda.
To be immersed in the culture, I am staying at Rubyewra Dairy which is one of the Practical Dairy Training Farms. In collaboration with SNV (the NGO hosting me here), these farms created 4-day courses for farmers to improve their knowledge on management, nutrition, and breeding of dairy cattle. I had the chance to attend one of the training during my first week, where I was happily surprised by the amount of information that was given to farmers over the 4 days.
While everyone in the class was learning about management, nutrition and reproduction, I was learning about the challenges of milking cows in Uganda. Most of the milking cows in Uganda are local breeds (Ankole and Zebu), which seem to be more beef than dairy cows with a daily milk production of 2 to 4L. To be able to meet the milk market that has grown in the past years, producers are now using exotic breeds… And by exotic, I mean what we are used to: the good old black and white Friesian, or the pretty Jersey (which are known to produce over 30L per day in North America and Europe).
The problem with exotic cows is that they are not very well adapted to Ugandan conditions… and maybe Uganda is also not really adapted to them. Here is why: I first learned about the four Ugandan seasons: the wet season (March to June), the dry season (June to September), the very wet season (September to December), and the dry season (again, December to March). And let me tell you, they don’t call it dry season for nothing…We’re in the middle of it now, and I think the humidity level is probably -15% (true story)! As Ugandan dairy cows find their feed on pastures, the nutrients available for cows during the dry seasons are so limited that ͞exotic cows have no possibility to reach their milk production potential.
Farmers now need to plan ahead and have extra silage, grains, protein sources, minerals, which they never had to do with their Ankole cows. Moreover, they need to make sure their cows have access to water (I know this sounds very basic, but it is not an easy task to make water accessible to your cows in every pasture they go grazing)!
During the training sessions, instructors emphasize the importance of building water points, and to making silage in preparation for the dry seasons. This is when I realized what ͞mechanization of agriculture meant. Personally, I grew up in a world where there was a tractor for everything. Seriously, plowing, tilling, disking, harrowing, planting, spraying, harvesting, chopping, mixing, transporting, etc. The only thing left was rock picking, but I think there is now a rock picker! Here… well, let’s just say there’s a tractor for nothing. It’s all man power that accomplishes work on farms. For example, it takes 40 people for a whole day to make a small silage bunk.
When I use man power, it is not a figure of speech as most people involved in agriculture are men. I’ve come to realize that women are not raised to be involved in agriculture or businesses. There are, obviously exceptions. For example, the almost 75-year-old woman who owns the farm where I live runs the family business on her own. I also met a few other women involved in farms, but I have to say they are rare. Organizations such as Veterinarians Without Borders and SNV have for mission to integrated women in agricultural enterprises and support their empowerment.
Another great challenge exotic cows are facing in Uganda is diseases. Many tick-borne diseases such as East Coast Fever (Theileria parva), anaplasmosis (Anaplasma marginale), and babesiosis (Babesia bigemina) are highly prevalent in Uganda.
Unfortunately, exotic breeds are not resilient to these infections, and there are many losses associated to them. The control of these diseases is primarily done with the use of acaricides to prevent ticks to attach to cows and calves. As all animals on the farm need to be thoroughly sprayed twice a week, it is a very intensive workload or a very expensive investment to install a spray race on the premise.
The last challenge I want to present here is more for me than for the cows… While Ugandan dairy farmers are facing multiple challenges such as weather, nutrition, water, diseases, etc., my role here is to assess the breeding strategies in use, and to make recommendations for the future. As a veterinarian and an epidemiologist, I was trained to use data to make decisions. There is however, no data available in the country, whether for production, reproduction or health. It is consequently very difficult to evaluate the impact of the strategies adopted by farmers, other than with the ͞gut feeling. Luckily, I have a few resources in my back pocket, which I’m planning to use to help supporting my recommendations.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep on giving a hand for milking (literally, there is no milking machines here), taking care of the calves, and interacting with local farmers for the two weeks I have left in this beautiful country.
This past month, we have travelled to two districts in the Northern region of Ghana to meet farmers in rural communities. The road was often rough but our driver expertly avoided the potholes that the rain created in the dirt road. We departed early every morning for the communities so we could meet the farmers before they left for their farms.
Cows on the road in the village.While we greeted the members of the community in the local language, chairs and benches were brought and placed in a circle under the shade of a tree. Ghana has a large diversity of ethnic groups and languages and it’s a fun challenge to learn the proper greeting for each community we visited. In respect of the local custom, we accompanied our guide to greet the chief of the community to explain our presence, and to receive his approval before we spoke to the farmers. Once the members of the community had assembled, we began our presentation.
We shared information about good animal husbandry and spoke about providing shelter, feed and water to the animals. We also provided sensitization on disease prevention and control and proper maintenance of a shelter. By implementing these animal care practices, we hope that farmers will be able to increase their animal production as well as their income.
Following our presentation, we invited farmers to share their experiences with animal husbandry and we found their stories inspirational. Some of them had already improved their animal care practices and reported increased production, and were able to sell their meat and eggs at the market for additional income.
Although the communities showed a great interest in animal production, they also faced significant constraints. Major challenges preventing the start or expansion of animal production include limited access to water, medicine, veterinary services and start-up capital. High mortality rates due to disease also prevent the growth of their herd or flock size. The community members asked many questions and we did our best to address their needs and discuss possible solutions that could be implemented. We always tried to respect the local culture and way of thinking as we shared ideas.
We hope that sharing knowledge and skills with farmers will enable them to improve their animal production. By empowering farmers, they can become their own agents of change, and promote sustainable development in their communities to help improve their livelihoods.
The weeks are just flying by! For this blog post, we would like to describe what a typical day looks like for us, and the number of people it takes to pull off a project like this – enjoy!
8 am: Breakfast! Our cook Sam keeps us well fed, we are always eager to see what he has prepared for us in the mornings. While our primary goal it to assist the farming community, our project offers gainful employment to many people like our cook Sam. We pay for his salary out of our own pockets, and without the project we wouldn’t be here, and Sam wouldn’t have this job. We discuss our plans for the day over tea and coffee and look at reports about the farm from previous years to know what to focus on/expect when we get there. Without all the work put in by previous volunteers we would be starting from scratch.
9 am: Our driver Ephraim and translator Pricilla arrive. They have both been working on VWB projects for the last five years offering driving and translation services (in addition to cow wrangling, and coordinating all our farm visits). These two are a major backbone of the project and help to ensure we succeed. More than that they also help to guide us in the cultural norms and practices in Kenya. To say we would be lost without them is an understatement both figuratively and literally – no farm has a road name or house number here, it is all first hand knowledge of the region and people. We load up the van with supplies for the day. These include our medical supply kit for animals, construction tools, a first aide kit (for any minor bumps and scrapes for the humans), the flip chart and stand for the seminar presentation, and buckets for washing our boots between farms.
9:30 am: Arrive at the host farm, where we meet the farmer and take a look at their cow(s). We discuss how the past year has gone for them and if they have any concerns about their cow currently. Most of these farmers have been working with VWB volunteers for 1-4 years, indicating the success of a long term partnership. If time allows, we do a physical exam on their animals while we wait for the rest of the seminar participants to show up. Yay Kenyan time! – things run a slower schedule here than we are used to in Canada, but it is a one of the charms of being in a new culture and country. The other farmers are coming from farms near-by, and are often friends of the host farmer.
10 am: Priscilla takes attendance of the farmers who have arrived. Many of them have come to the seminars in previous years, but there are always some new faces in the crowd. There are usually 7-10 people who come out to each seminar. We always try to ensure at least half of the participants at the seminars are women as they are often the person taking care of the cows, and can benefit from farming as a source of income they have control over.
10:30: Once everyone is settled and introductions have been made, we start the seminar. Each of us take turns discussing the different topics that we are teaching this summer. Each topic is specifically targeted to provide information to increase cow production and welfare, and is all based on research projects done in this area through a PhD student and VWB volunteers from past years. These topics include:
Proper feeding of water (always available!), forage (free choice and good quality!), minerals, and dairy meal (a mixture of grains)
How to calculate how much dairy meal their cow needs depending on their milk production
Mastitis prevention (mastitis is an infection in the udder that lowers milk production and quality)
Proper milking practices to prevent the spread of bacteria – keep things clean!
Farmers here all milk their cows by hand, so we discuss the best techniques to ensure we reduce the risk of mastitis.
When to breed your cow
Proper stall design
Clean and adequate bedding
Prevention of environmental mastitis
Farmers often have a lot of questions on all the topics in the seminar – they are very engaged and interested to hear about ways their can improve their cow’s milk production and prevent illnesses.
1 pm: Once we are finished with the teaching, we head on over to the host farmer’s cow pens to apply what we have just talked about. Farmers have the chance to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the stall, with the hope that applying what they have learned will help them improve on their own farms.
If the stall needs minor changes to the size or bedding, we help the farmer make these changes. For larger reconstruction projects, we suggest to the farmer proper ways to rebuild to maximize cow comfort. We then deworm one of the host farmer’s cows as a thank-you for having us and taking the time to host all the seminar participants.
2 pm: We offer to visit the farms of the other seminar participants to do physical exams on their cows, give one-on-one feedback about their stalls and feeding programs, or to troubleshoot any specific problems they may be having. We may also help with stall reconstruction there if we have time. Usually we visit 2-3 farms for every seminar we teach.
4:30: Arrive back at the house. After changing out of our (sometimes very dirty) scrubs, it’s on to the paperwork. Another person employed by our group with our personal funds is Ruth. She ensures all of our scrubs and clothes are clean when we go to work, no easy feat since in Kenya its all hand washing! For our paperwork we record how many participants were at the seminar that day, as well as their age, gender, how many cows they have, and if they had attended seminars in previous years. Additionally, we write a summary report of what we did that day, noting the things that we taught and what the farmers showed particular interest in. We write down how things have been going at the host farm, as well as improvements we suggested so that next year’s group can follow up with them about it. We also write about the other farm’s that we visited. In the background we also have ongoing assistance from many of the staff of the Wakulima Dairy, and our in country coordinator Mr. Gerald Kariuki. This assistance ensures we can all do our work easily with the cooperation of the greater Mukurwe-ini farming community.
6:30 pm: Dinner time! Sam outdoes himself every night with the spread he prepares – there is always something new and delicious to try. We like to joke about how we eat better here than in Canada!
8 pm: After dinner, with very full bellies, we have some free time to talk about the day, look up any questions we didn’t know the answer to during the seminar, and to catch up on our personal journals.
10 (ish) pm: After a busy day, it is time for bed to rest up for another day tomorrow! As you can see it takes a village to accomplish the project goals. Without the support of so many Kenyans and Canadians we would not be able to accomplish so much! Thanks to everyone who supports our work here – it wouldn’t be possible without you!
Since our last update, we have been hard at work in the villages of Kisondela ward, holding calf management seminars for the members of Africa Bridge’s dairy cow co-op. We have found that calves are sometimes overlooked in favour of cows because they are not yet producing milk and generating an income for the farmers. The goal of our seminars is to educate farmers on the importance of investing in and caring for their calves while they are young, to set them up to be healthy, high-producing animals in the future.
Our seminars have focused on the importance of giving the calf a good start to life by making sure it receives adequate colostrum and milk, clean, fresh water, and comfortable housing. We have provided the farmers with a weaning schedule that will help them transition from feeding milk to feeding grain and grasses by the age of 12 weeks. We have found that giving advice on these simple, attainable changes that farmers can make is an effective way to improve the health and welfare of the calves and to ensure healthy, high-producing cows in the future.
We have also had the opportunity to join the Africa Bridge (AB) team in the field, performing pregnancy diagnosis on cows belonging to members of the AB dairy cow co-op. This is an especially important service provided by AB, as the calves that are born will be passed on to other families in need. By taking good care of their animals and having their cows’ pregnancies diagnosed, farmers will be able to provide a healthier calf to their neighbours sooner, resulting in a more productive, stronger community.
While AB’s work is ongoing in the wards of Kisondela and Kambosegala, another ward, Lufingo, recently completed their five-year partnership with AB, and graduated from the program. We were fortunate enough to attend the graduation ceremony where hundreds of community members were present, celebrating the progress that has been made in their villages thanks to the programs instituted by AB. We visited a few farms, saw the improved living conditions of the animals there, and heard from farmers about how having these animals has positively impacted their lives. Farmers have used the money earned from their animals to build new houses, purchase clothing for their children, pay school fees and even to buy more animals. We are optimistic that Kisondela and Kambosegala wards will see similar results by or before their graduations from the program.
We were able to further explore Tanzania by spending a weekend on a safari in Ruaha National Park. It is Tanzania’s largest national park, and home to many animals including lions, elephants, giraffes and hippos. We were lucky enough to see these and many other animals on our short trip to the park, and to explore the nearby city of Iringa. We have noticed many differences between Tukuyu and Iringa, allowing us to appreciate the diversity of cultures, landscapes, climates, and traditions throughout this beautiful country.
We are looking forward to continuing our seminars for farmers, and hope to broaden the range of topics taught to include ones we have received many questions about, such as heat detection in cows, mastitis prevention, and mineral supplementation. We are excited to continue our work with AB, and to collaborate and teach with the great people at this organization.
This project is made possible by funding from Global Affairs Canada.
We would like to introduce everyone to our VWB summer placement team! We will all be working on SNV’s TIDE (The Inclusive Dairy Enterprise) initiative. Carina and Katelyn will be working on the school milk and goat pass on projects in partnership with FAOC (Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children). Olivia and Nikki will be continuing projects surrounding artificial insemination and dairy farming, eventually aiming to establish dairy hubs to support the current market.
As soon as we arrived, we already ran into car troubles. On our first night we woke up to a flat tire so we all had to use our “mechanical skills” to tackle the challenge. Pictured above is Dr. Laura McDonald and Katelyn attempting to remedy the problem.
After our car mishap was sorted, we started to explore our new home of 3 months and get down to work. Carina and Katelyn began to get some practice in with some local goats by preforming blood draw and basic physical exam.
Meanwhile, Olivia and Nikki began meeting with the AI technicians to work on identifying resources required by the technicians for the business centers, meeting some new furry friends along the way.
In addition to our animal focused work, the volunteers and Dr. McDonald were able to participate in World Milk Day celebrations in Kaberebere. The event was organized in collaboration with FAOC as a part of SNV’s school feeding campaign. Many students are sent to school without proper nutrition, which decreases their ability to focus and learn while in the classroom. By promoting milk programs and educating students and parents about the importance of balanced nutrition, the campaign hopes to help alleviate this issue and improve the student drop out rate. The event was an enormous success, having over 2,500 attendees!
Finally, on a quiet weekend, we were able to steal a few hours away to visit Lake Mburo and to see what vet students love most… ANIMALS! We were able to observe many of the native species to Uganda, including the impala pictured below.
So far this has been the experience of a lifetime, and we all are looking forward to what the rest of this summer and our placements have in store!
Ya Bulika (Good morning) from Yua, Ghana! We’ve currently been in Yua, a village in the Upper East Region for a little over a week, and have adapted to the rural life.
Prior to our arrival in Yua, we spent a few weeks in Accra, Ghana’s capital, where we participated in quite a few interesting activities. Yuqing took part in a rabies workshop aimed to evaluate and improve Ghanaian surveillance systems and action plans to decrease rabies prevalence in both humans and animals. Once Nima arrived, we shadowed a practicing veterinarian, who brought us along for cattle vaccination, poultry farm evaluations, and livestock market monitoring. These visits helped us understand the role of livestock in Ghana, allowing us to prepare an action plan for our project in Yua.
Our project in Yua is tied to GAPNET, an NGO with a new relationship to VWB, and we are the first group of VWB volunteers to work with them. GAPNET aims to promote sustainable development, by providing both resources and knowledge on livestock husbandry and it’s relation to human health to Ghanaians. This is exactly what we will be doing throughout the summer in Yua, with the help our supervisors: Dr. Geoffrey Akabua and Dr. Anthony Akunzule.
A few days after our arrival in Yua, we visited the community leaders which included the head Chief. We introduced ourselves, and explained our purpose for visiting their village. This meeting was extremely important to our project, as we needed to receive permission from the leaders to work in the community.
Our first veterinary activity in Yua, involved students from Yua Junior High School. Drilling for Hope, an American NGO, provided 25 single-parent school children with fowls to take care of. We visited these students to check-up on their fowl, and provide them with vaccinations against Newcastle Disease.
Our next activity, was vaccinating sheep, goats and dogs belonging to women involved in women’s groups in Yua. In two days, we vaccinated 400 sheep and goats against Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), and a dozen dogs against Rabies. Although 400 seems like a large number, we will also be doing multiple community vaccination clinics throughout Yua, for an estimated 1200 more livestock within the next month.
One of our most important activities this week involved presenting a seminar on livestock husbandry to women’s groups in Yua. A total of 50 women, from five different groups joined us to discuss proper sheltering, feeding, and disease control for small ruminants; rearing of Guinea Fowl Chicks; importance of veterinary care for livestock; and, drought resistant plants to provide feed to both livestock and humans during the dry season.
In May 2018, Brent Ludwig, Megan White, and Dr. Roger Thomson arrived in Tanzania after a training session in Ottawa. They touched down in the Mbeya Region of Tanzania on May 18 and have since been hard at work in the small hillside town of Tukuyu. Brent recently graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.Sc. (Hons) in Animal Biology. Megan is a Registered Veterinary Technician and is currently completing a B.Sc. in Agricultural Studies at the University of Lethbridge. Dr. Roger is one of Veterinarians without Borders’ (VWB/VSF) most experienced and dedicated volunteers. He has coordinated a poultry project in Tanzania for several years and has mentored many volunteers in the process. Megan and Brent will be working in the Mbeya Region for the summer as part of VWB/VSF’s Young Volunteers Program.
Tanzania is a stable country, rich in natural resources, but still burdened by harsh realities: there are an estimated 930,000 children considered vulnerable in the country and 47% of the population lives below the international poverty line. VWB/VSF’s partner organization, Africa Bridge (AB), works in 18 villages in the Mbeya Region. They establish Most Vulnerable Children Committees (MVCCs) and provide a pathway to economic independence for caretakers of vulnerable children. This is done by establishing crop and livestock co-ops, providing start-up loans to co-op members, and offering intensive training. Using a holistic, integrated development model, AB’s self-sustaining programs have improved the lives of over 7,000 children and their families.
During the month of May, we have had the privilege of meeting with village representatives and co-op members to get a firsthand look at the tremendous impact AB has in these rural communities.
For the remainder of our stay in Tanzania, we will be working in villages in Kisondela ward, where AB has an established dairy co-op. We will be hosting seminars focused on dairy calf management, including proper nutrition, housing, and disease control, in order to improve calf health and welfare. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with small-holder farmers to develop sustainable methods that will benefit the health and welfare of the people, animals, and the environments in which they live.
Thanks to Global Affairs Canada for supporting VWB/VSF’s Volunteers for Healthy Animals and Healthy Communities (V4H2) initiative and making our project this summer possible.
After departing Ottawa on May 15th, Marie-Anne Sirois, Rachael Speare, and I arrived 28 hours later in beautiful Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. We spent our first few days acclimating to Vietnam life in the Old Quarter, an eclectic and lively neighbourhood in the northern half of the Hoan Kiem District. Our senses were overloaded by the sights, sounds and smells of this vibrant city. The sheer volume of people along unending streets of bustling merchant shops and restaurants in 30+ degree temperatures and humidity was overwhelming—in the best possible way.
We were instantly intoxicated with our new surroundings. While navigating around the Old Quarter trying to get organized (currency exchange, purchasing SIM cards, downloading the Grab taxi app., etc.), we were faced with one of the most infamous tourist challenges in Vietnam: crossing the street! The advice we received before departing was to “just go for it!” This concept meant little to us until we found ourselves standing on the edge of a curb on a street five lanes wide with no break in traffic in sight. Here in Vietnam, to get to the other side, you just have to “go for it.” So we did! We ‘confidently’ strode into the busy street while oncoming cars and motorbikes veered around us from all directions with only inches to spare! The feat of getting to the other side unscathed was a true victory. Soon, thankfully, we adapted, and our street crossing challenge, which was initially terrifying, became second nature.
After getting our bearings in the big city, we started work with VWB’s placement partner here: the Center for Public Health and Ecosystem Research (CENPHER). CENPHER is an independently-funded organization based at the Hanoi University of Public Health. They comprise a solid team with varying skill-sets. All of the members are dedicated to public health, either in a research or training capacity. Their goal is to strengthen research, especially in the areas of:
(1) integrative health research, Ecohealth and One Health
(2) food safety and risk analysis
(3) health risk and impact assessment.
Some of the current research topics include infectious and zoonotic diseases (eg. Tuberculosis), food safety (eg. PigRisk, SafePORK), and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), as well as heath risks related to water, sanitation and environment (e.g. balancing health risks and economic benefits in relation to excreta and wastewater use in agriculture). Agricultural intensification and health impact (e.g. applying an Ecohealth approach for better management of human excreta and animal manure) is also a strong focus at CENPHER. Our placement supervisor is Dr. Pham Duc Phuc, MD, PhD, who has a background in epidemiology, microbiology and wastewater sanitation. Dr. Phuc is a strong and respected voice for public health and One Health across Vietnam. He is both a member of the strategic planning committee of Southeast Asia One Health University Network (SEAOHUN) as well as the coordinator of the Vietnam One Health University Network (VOHUN).
When we arrived to meet the CENPHER team, we were also introduced to the other Veterinarians Without Borders volunteers, who have been in Vietnam for the past few months. They are Elizabeth Lartey, Devon Atherton, and Talia Glickman. It was encouraging to hear about their positive experiences, and to learn about their individual projects at CENPHER, which range from health impact assessments to One Health data analysis.
[Left to Right: Vu Van Tu, Dr. Pham Duc Phan, Tran Thi Kim Tuyen, Rachael Speare, Devon Atherton, Tran Thi Ngan, Vu Thi Nga, Talia Glickman, Elizabeth Lartey, Clarisse Richard, Regan Schwartz, Trinh Thu Hang, Marie-Anne Sirois, Nguyen Thi Thu Thao, Pham Thi Minh Phuong, Dr. Tran Thi Hanh, Mac Cong Ly, Nguyen Thi Bich Thao, Nguyen Thi Hien, Dr. Dang Xuan Sinh]
Rachael, Marie-Anne and I all come from different cities across Canada and are all currently enrolled in different veterinary school programs. We each bring very different experiences to this placement; for instance, Rachael’s past research experience with aquaculture and strong report writing skills in Prince Edward Island have already proven to be an asset. She has been enlisted to help proof-read research papers that will soon be submitted for international publication. Hers is an invaluable contribution to the research team. Marie-Anne, from Montreal, brings a diverse amount of event planning and communication experience which has been harnessed to help with VOHUN’s upcoming One Health Competition, planning the schedule for a ‘Family Day’ at our upcoming CENPHER staff retreat, and developing an English/French Club with CENPHER staff members.
My zoonotic disease research experience and strong interest in parasitology have proven to be an asset in helping to develop collaborative efforts between CENPHER and the private animal sector. There is an exciting opportunity to raise the profile of zoonotic disease and One Health issues related to companion animals here in Vietnam, beyond Rabies. We are currently finalizing a research project concept with Dr. Biu Linh, DVM, PhD, Co-Founder of GAIA Hanoi Pet Clinic and Director of the Biodiversity Conservation and Tropical Diseases Research Institute, and her experienced research team. More details on that project to come.
[Top Row: Ms. Do Thanh Thom, Ms. Dam Thi Tuyet, Ms. Le Thi Suong, Mr. Tran Anh Tuan, Bottom Row: Dr. Tran Thi Hanh, Dr. Pham Duc Phuc, Dr. Bui Khanh Linh and Regan Schwartz]
After only two weeks, it is safe to say that we are smitten with Vietnam and the work we are doing with CENPHER. We are so inspired by CENPHER’s commitment to make positive change in the area of public health and are grateful to be here, contributing to the process. We look forward to sharing more of our adventure with you all very soon. Our next blog post will include details from: our trip to Ha Long Bay, the One Health Forum 2018 in Hanoi, CENPHER’s staff retreat in Dai Lai and the upcoming One Health Curriculum workshop in Danang.
St. George’s University