Sharing and Learning on the Back Roads of Kenya

Dr. Bill Hazen is a member of the first group of volunteers deployed through VWB/VSF’s Volunteers for Healthy Animals and Healthy Communities project. In the piece below he reflects on a wonderful partnership with a local vet tech.

I am currently in the small village of Ex-Lewa with a team of volunteers with Veterinarians Without Borders in partnership with Farmers Helping Farmers, an NGO from PEI. There are no “veterinary surgeons” servicing the area on a regular basis, the primary care is provided by technicians that have taken a 2 year course and are taught the basics in veterinary care. My mandate on this trip was to travel with the vet techs, assess their skill level and offer suggestions to improve the level of diagnoses and treatment. There are 2 vet techs in the Ex-Lewa area and one of them has come forth and eagerly sought out new information and techniques to diagnose and treat livestock.
His name is Simon Muchoki, he is 38 yrs old, married and father of 2children. He has been servicing this area for the past 14 years, initially employed by the Ex-Lewa dairy co-operative and currently has his own business, Ebeneezer AI and animal health services, with an office in the Ex Lewa market. Here is Simon with his mobile vet services.

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I have spent the last 2 weeks with Simon and have 1 week to go. I would not fit on his motorbike and with the state of the roads here, my degenerative spine would not be happy on a motorbike, so we have rented a car and driver. David is the car owner and driver and he not only drives us he is assisting us with restraint and in whatever way he can. Here we are getting ready to head out for the day.

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All Simon uses to make his diagnoses is a thermometer and a cursory physical exam, he does quite well, however, I am teaching him the value of additional information provided by a stethoscope such as heart rate, different lung sounds, stomach motility, and checking for a sternal grunt found in cows with hardware disease. I did bring stethoscopes donated by Dr. Wayne McDonnell a retired prof from the Ontario Veterinary College and have given one to Simon. Below is Simon checking the heart rate on a downer cow.

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When dehorning I noticed he did not provide analgesia using a nerve block ( the same way a dentist freezes your tooth) to minimize pain in the procedure. I reviewed with Simon the technique and we froze all the rest of the calves dehorned that day. Simon uses a large piece of iron that was part of a truck spring and put in the fire until it is red hot and uses it for disbudding small calves or cauterizing after wire sawing the big horns. I think we need to educate the farmers as well on the benefits to their animals , so they will ask the technicians to do this for their animals.

The next picture is a cow with East Coast Fever, this is a tick borne disease causing a high fever, cough and swollen lymph nodes. They respond well if caught early, treated with oxytetracycline. This cow had a temp of 106.6 F (41.4 C). Here Simon is commending the farmer on the good body condition of her cows, due to the fact that she is cutting her Napier grass at the best height for high feed value, and also advising her after cutting the forage to let it wilt for a day away from the cows so the ticks will leave the plants and not expose the cow and minimize further cases of ECF.

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One of the biggest impacts we have on milk quality is to reduce the incidence of mastitis and I have encouraged Simon to do a California Mastitis Test on all cows that are going dry. This is a very cheap and easy test, milking some milk onto a paddle and mixing with a soap-like solution, if there is subclinical mastitis the milk will gel. One of the biggest returns on investment is to dry cow treat these positive cows at dry off. We have supplied Simon with a CMT paddle and the solution is readily available here. The following two pictures are of Simon doing the CMT test and dry cow treating a positive cow.

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Many of the calls I attended with Simon were for fertility issues. Either no observable heat or the cow being bred many times and not getting pregnant. I taught Simon how to assess the repeat breeder cow, and introduced him to a simple tool we use called avaginoscope. The vaginoscope is a clear glass cylinder that can be passed into the vagina of the cow and you can visualize her vagina and cervix and any the colour of the mucus looking for abnormalities. The pictures below show him doing the vaginoscopy. The cow had a slight whitish colour to the mucus sitting in the vagina, indicating she has a uterine infection and probably the reason for her not conceiving. He is shown infusing the same cow with an antibiotic solution to get rid of the infection.

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One day we had a heavydown pour that turned the roads into a greasy slippery mess. We got stuck several times and had to push the vehicle, with help from others, to get going. The one time we were stuck on a grade and had to call a local ox team tow truck to pull us 200 metres onto level ground. It was interesting watching the bulls respond to commands of their owner, just like a well trained team of horses. The towing fee was 500 Kenyan Shillings about $7.00 Cdn.

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Simon has a strong bond with his clients and often will do what he calls a “sympathy call”. Heknows the owner has very little money and he will treat their animal for no remuneration.
We stopped in to one of his longest standing clients, Teresa Karioke. Simon has been working for her since he became a vet tech in 2002. He relayed a heartwarming story about Teresa, how she lost her husband when her children were small and how hard she worked selling milk to pay for school fees for her children. She now has one son that graduated as a mechanical engineer and is working at the Pickering Nuclear Generating station in Ontario, and another son that is an assistant to the minister of Revenue in the Kenyan government.
Below is a picture of myself and Mrs. Karioke, she gave me her sons cell number in Canada and I plan on sending this picture to him.

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It’s been a great joy working with Simon who is passionate about his work. We learned a lot from each other. I taught him some veterinary skills and he taught me veterinary medicine Kenyan style, as well he has re-enforced in me the importance of compassion, kindness and empathy for our fellow citizens that are less fortunate.We have developed a personal friendship that will continue after I leave next week. Asante Sana
Bill Hazen DVM
Milverton Wellesley Veterinary Clinic