Milking Cows in Uganda by Dr. José Denis-Robichaud

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.

Tea time at Rubyerwa Dairy Investment ltd. No day can go without a few cups of tea (hot fresh milk and tea leaves). On a farm that employs so many people and constantly has visitors and trainees, Brenda and Alex are essential to the operation, and the happiness of everyone!

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.

Practical Dairy Training at Rubyerwa Dairy Investment ltd. Discussion about water access in the pastures with (from left to right) Generous Kagumire, Innocent Nowarmani, David N. Kalitani, and Norman Kakuru.

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).

Milking cows at Rubyewra Dairy Investment ltd. Philomena’s herd has 28 cows in lactation at the moment. While most of them are crossbreeds between Ankole (local breed) and Friesian, some are crossbreeds with Jersey and Ayrshire.

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.

Making silage at Rubyewra Dairy Investment ltd. Man power is essential for every single task on the farm, from harvesting the feed, to milking the cows. The silage bunk took 40 people working for a whole day.

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.

Philomena, who will be 75 years old in September. She is a great inspiration for other women in the community!
Clementia is a young hard-working university student who did her internship at the farm. She was excellent with the calves and had a good eye to see when a cow was starting to be sick.

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.

Spraying acaricide on cattle at Rubyewra Dairy Investment ltd. While spraying, it is essential to get the animals covered in acaricide. It is either time (hand spraying) or money (spray race) consuming for farmers to maintain a good tick management and prevent diseases highly prevalent in the region.

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.

On a Ugandan dairy farm. Milking cows by hand, twice a day, requires skills and dedication. Pelé, born from a Friesian cow and a Gir bull (Brazilian breed).This crossbreeding is possible through importation of semen and artificial insemination.

Webare / thank you!

Project update from Tamale, Ghana

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.

A shelter used for pigs .

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.

A picture taken following our presentation in the community of Kpembe.

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.

It Takes a Village – A Day in the Life of the VWB Vet Students in Kenya

Hello all!

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.

The team talks with a host farmer about their cow and farm.

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:

  • Nutrition
    • 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.
  • Reproduction
    • Heat detection
    • When to breed your cow
  • Cow comfort
    • 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.

Alex and Priscilla teaching about nutrition at the seminar.
Interested and engaged seminar participants.

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.

Looking at the cow pen to evaluate if alterations need to be made.

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.

At a seminar participants farm.

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.

Doing some paperwork before dinner.

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!

Enjoying dinner!

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!

Hello from VWB’s Team Tanzania!

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.

With a calf we met after our calf management seminar in Lutete village.

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.

Brent performing a pregnancy diagnosis on a heifer in Isuba village.

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.

Farmers and community members from Lufingo ward gathered for their graduation ceremony.

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.

Lions resting on the edge of the Great Ruaha River in Ruaha National Park.

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.

Nogambaki from Mbarara, Uganda!

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.

Car issues were quickly resolved!

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.

Drawing blood

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.

The SNV group making friends in the field!

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!

Pictured above is FAOC director Boas with a group of attendees showing off their empty milk cups.

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.

Animals in the park!

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!

Hello from Yua!

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.


Yuqing, Nima, and Dr. Geoffrey Akabua with the head chief and sub-chiefs of Yua

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.

High School Student outreach treating New Castle

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.

Administering eye-drop vaccines against Newcastle Disease

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.

Yuqing leading an educational session.
Dr. Geoffrey Akabua, Nima, Dr. Anthony Akunzule, and Yuqing with seminar participants.

Veterinarians without Borders’ Young Volunteers Program 2018 – Introducing Team Tanzania

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.

We attended a child’s birthday party in Tukuyu and got to partake in the festivities. In Tanzania, putting icing on all of the birthday guests’ faces is a tradition! (Left to right: Dr. Roger, Megan, and Brent)

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.

We went on a hike through a tea plantation south of Tukuyu. Tea is a major export from the Mbeya Region

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.

During our visit to the small village of Katela, we met Estwidaa Itete. Estwidaa has been hard at work over the last few months listening to and applying the training provided by AB and has built an impressive chicken coop using local materials. At the beginning of May, she received 9 hens and 1 rooster, who continue to be well cared for and safe in their new coop. (Left to right: Megan, Estwidaa, Brent, and Dr. Roger)

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.

During a visit to dairy co-op member Joseph Nwaka’s farm in Isuba village, we found his happy calf resting in a bed of straw.

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.

Public Health in Hanoi, Vietnam

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.

Hanoi, Vietnam

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.

Busy Pho Dong Xuan and Pho Hang Chieu intersection in the Old Quarter

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.

Nguyen Thi Thu Thao with Rachael Speare
Tran Thi Kim Tuyen with Marie-Anne Sirois

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.


Regan Schwartz
DVM/MPH Program
St. George’s University

Ghanaian Living: Samantha Canning

Sitting here at the SEND Ghana office in Tamale listening to the sounds of passing goats, motorbikes and people, is something surreal. I have been in Ghana for about a month and a half now and each day is different. Tamale has certainly not been predicable and I am loving it! Of course with anything there is a period of adjustment where you think to yourself, ‘what did I get myself into?’ But before long you realize this is exactly what you wanted and needed. The time passes and with each day you become a little more involved, dedicated, and accustomed to the differences

I arrived in Accra on May 2 and the following morning took a flight to Northern Ghana, Tamale. Accra is much too busy for me and when I arrived in Tamale I realized that it was going to be perfect.  Once I arrived I headed to the SEND office here where I met the staff who are so welcoming and friendly. My placement supervisor, Patience, and I immediately clicked, joked, and laughed, and I knew things would be great during my placement. SEND and VWB have been partnered since June 2016 and work together to improve nutrition and livelihoods of local smallholder farmers, all while addressing issues of gender equality. If you haven’t read about SEND-Ghana and their work, in particular in Northern Ghana, you should check out their website.

SEND GHANA office signs in Salaga

Last week I was in the field for presentations first travelling to Salaga and from there to Chamba each day. I was in the Chamba area for three days and I held 8 different community workshops on animal nutrition to community members. I arrived at my first community and I was invited to sit in under a huge, beautiful tree where I was shocked to see the number of people that were beginning to gather around me (and I will admit, I was a little nervous). We were expecting about 10-15 people and I ended up with well over 40. As we worked on finding a translator within the group, I started talking with them and my nerves began to disappear. Before long I felt like I was among old friends and through my presentation they were so attentive and interested in the knowledge that I could offer them. At the end of each meeting I like to ask the participants their challenges. By hearing these stories of local farmer’s experiences I gain knowledge to share with others -this has been the most interesting part for me. I especially encourage the women to share as they are the main caretakers for most of the animals, in particular poultry. I love to hear how they have come up with unique ways to increase the animals feed with things from their home, such as cassava flour. The days were long and hot but the experience is something that I will appreciate, treasure and never forget.

Workshop on Animal Nutrition in the community of Wudomiabra

During one of the workshops it began to get very windy and looked like rain was near. Let me put this into perspective; the farmers have been waiting for the long, overdue, rainy season. They were very nervous about whether the crops will have enough to be successful. As we were in the middle of the session it started pouring so we all packed up and ran into the nearby schoolhouse to continue our sessions, in the dark, as the power had gone out. We could barely be heard over the rain beating against the metal roof all while the local farmers were as interested as ever, so the loud rain did not hinder the presentation in the slightest.

After we finished a young man that I had met previously during another workshop the day before stood up to thank us for our efforts to better his community and because of our good wishes and messages for them, they were awarded the rain. This made me feel so very honored to have met these farmers, in particular this young man who despite all of his hardships, he is still so dedicated to succeeding and this is a lesson that I will carry with me. I can only hope to be half the person he is.

I have met so many interesting people since my arrival and I am sure that the list will continue to grow. I am looking forward to holding more workshops. Through each meeting I gain something as an individual, not only in terms of animal nutrition practices, but as well as personally. My goal through my work here has been to assist families to become more successful by diversifying into animal production as well as crop production, thereby increasing profits. Farmers are realizing that as the rains are becoming less predictable they cannot depend on just the crops so by adding animal rearing we can help increase available income. Although, rearing animals needs to be considered a business and therefore, some training is needed regarding the feeding of these animals to turn profits. Without proper care, the animals will not bring the benefits that we wish to see and the local farmers that I have discussed this with are very positive regarding the change on how they rear their animals.

I am so thankful for this wonderful experience, for VWB, SEND-Ghana and for all the work they have already completed and what is yet to come. I am so grateful to be a part of it! Stay tuned for my updates from Tamale.

Experiencing Ghana

Written by Lydie-Amy and Stephanie, participants in the Young Volunteer Program in Ghana working with SEND Ghana.

Dasiba! Good morning from Tamale, Ghana!

We find it hard to believe that we have spent almost a month in this beautiful country.  After spending a couple of days in Accra, the nation’s capital, we took a short flight up to Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region.  Upon our arrival, we had a warm welcome from the staff at SEND-Ghana, our partner organization.  Patience Ayamba, the Program Officer of the Eastern Corridor region has been invaluable to us as we started to settle in.

SEND-Ghana is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to promote good governance and gender equality through advocacy, policy awareness, and extension services. After almost 20 years of operation, SEND-Ghana has a variety of projects from promoting free maternal healthcare to helping resolve conflicts between communities though peace mediators.  They have projects in gender equality, maternal health, education, responsible governance and much more.  We were humbled to learn of SEND-Ghana’s success stories and their cooperative and integrated development framework.  We are just beginning to understand the complexity of social development issues, and it is a great privilege to be working with them this summer.

Lydie-Amy preparing for the workshop at the SEND-Ghana office in Tamale

One of their initiatives is the Policy Advocacy Program that helps to raise citizen’s awareness about politics and the impact it has on their daily lives. The goal is to advocate for good governance that promotes transparency and accountability. We were fortunate to be invited to attend the Regional Consultative Forum on the 2019 budget, hosted by SEND-Ghana.  The purpose of the conference was to allow citizens, community and industry representatives the opportunity to review government policies and provide input into the budget for next year’s initiatives.  Following presentations by ministry officials and an open question period, participants were divided into groups based on their sector of expertise: Agriculture, Health, Education and Social Protection. The objective was to identify the main issues in each sector, and suggest possible solutions that could be addressed in the government budget.  It was inspirational to observe the conference participants engage in passionate discussion, and to learn about the current challenges faced by the Agriculture sector.

Attendees of the forum listening to a presentation by a ministry representative

Another of SEND-Ghana’s programs is the Livelihood Security Program that aims to improve food security in the Northern Region of Ghana.  In this region, the success of smallholder crop production is vulnerable to climate change due to the long dry season and dependence on rain fed irrigation.  However, animals are well-adapted to the grasslands and arid climate of the area.  By empowering farmers with technical knowledge, we hope they will be able to diversify their income from crops and increase their profits with animal production.

We are excited to be working alongside our supervisor, Dr. Joseph Ansong Danquah, at the Training of Trainers’ workshops.  The goal of these 3-day sessions is to train community agriculture volunteers and extension officers on the benefits of animal production and good animal husbandry techniques.  After these informative sessions, participants will be able to speak with local communities so they can pass this knowledge to smallholder farmers.  We assisted with Dr. Danquah’s presentation and spoke about the benefits and the different types of housing for poultry and small ruminants.  Our favorite part of the workshop was meeting with farmers in the communities and listening to their success stories and current challenges.

Stephanie explaining to workshop participants the benefits of providing housing for animals


A presentation on animal husbandry to farmers at the Sabonjida community

After experiencing an initial adjustment period, we are now enjoying the vibrant Ghanaian culture: sampling local dishes, exploring the local markets, and learning a few words of the local language, Dagbani.  We are grateful for this incredible learning opportunity and are looking forward to what the next couple of months will bring!