The first day of rabies vaccination in the Laos VEVEP Rabies Campaign was busy and productive. Eight students from the Veterinary (paravet) Program at the National University of Laos accompanied four faculty and VWB veterinarian Anne Drew, to Ban Paksapmei. The three PAHWs – Primary Animal Health Workers – of the village met us at a corner store where a few villagers already waited with their dogs. Quickly stools and a table were set up to provide four stations. The first held the vaccination materials: muzzles and rope leashes, cooler with vaccine, needles and syringes, disposal containers for sharps and trash, and coloured neck markers for the vaccinated dogs. Then owners moved down a row providing recording and certificates, a short questionnaire on dog demographics and rabies awareness, and an information station where they received pamphlets in Lao and oral instruction. Emphasis was placed on what to do in the event of a dog bite and/or suspected rabies exposure: Wash the wound! Seek medical attention. Inform the authorities.
Lao dogs are rarely confined or leashed, but we had decided to require dogs be brought to a central location, rather than travelling house to house. This was due to time constraint – one day per village – and our feeling that given free vaccination, villagers could make the effort. Some misgiving as to whether many would show up was quickly dispelled with the first rush between 8:30 and 10. Dogs came following their owners freely or carried in arms. Litters of puppies arrived with families of young children carrying one apiece. Some dogs walked, reluctantly, on ropes and chains. A number arrived by motorcycle – either in the basket carrier (loose!), or carried by a passenger. One lady even drove with her fully-grown dog clamped between her knees. The occasional upscale family brought dogs by car, and one gentleman had a wire cage on a traditional wooden handcart.
Dogs were vaccinated by a PAHW, under Faculty supervision, while students manned the remaining stations, and I circulated as troubleshooter. Although the vaccine is labeled for dogs over three months, in a rabies-control vaccination campaign it is recommended to vaccinate all dogs; research in Tanzania has shown that young pups mount a strong immune response. I’m personally less comfortable vaccinating under 4 weeks, so we chose this age as cutoff in our public announcements, but vaccinated any presented.
An occasional dog escaped when attempts were made to muzzle it, and the team is learning to make sure panicky dogs are well secured before proceeding. Lao dogs, though unused to restraint, are well treated and generally good tempered, and no one was injured. The team shared a lunch of chicken soup, papaya salad and rice, before proceeding to the afternoon location. In all, 148 dogs and 6 cats were vaccinated. The Campaign will cover the remaining 10 project villages over the next 11 days, with a two day break for the Lao Boat Racing Festival, also the end of the three month Rains Retreat for Buddhist monks.
By Anne Drew