More than fun and games in Laos!

What makes us take health messages seriously? What motivates us to change our behaviour, since just knowing isn’t enough?

These are challenges facing the team in Laos when working on a host of issues related to human, animal and environmental health.  By collaboratively developing a series of games, presentations and videos, the team put together a health promotion package which allowed community members to see, read, hear, play and enact a range of learnings around community health.

Between July and August this year we held 11 Community Health Days in Houychiem community and received fantastic feedback from the villages, all of whom have asked for more next year!  The educational games were a popular activity, allowing adults and children alike to reflect on the value of livestock vaccination, malaria prevention and forest conservation.  A full evaluation of the Health Days and the most effective health messages conveyed is now being undertaken by Lauren Crawshaw, our field-based intern and will help us prepare even better next year.




Training of Trainers workshop launches pilot Ecohealth manual

The end of June saw VWB’s seminal Training of Trainers workshop take place in the coastal city of Pattaya, Thailand.

An ideal site for asking questions about the interaction between geography, landscape and social spaces, the workshop brought together future leaders in Ecohealth education from China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.  All the participants are part of a cohort who are developing Ecohealth teaching courses in these four countries.  The workshop allowed participants to build team collaboration and put their heads together to design the nuts and bolts of Ecohealth courses to suit their audience and institutional needs.

Participants from China’s Kunming Medical University planned out an Ecohealth module as well as cross-institutional seminars. Indonesia’s team saw the planning of a two-day Ecohealth module for Future Leader training; Thailand’s Mahidol University planned a whole curriculum for their graduate Ecohealth course in the making, and Vietnam’s Hanoi School of Public Health contingent prepared 4 to 16 hour teaching modules across departments using case studies and lecture-based classes.

The workshop was also an opportunity to soft launch the new pilot ECOHEALTH TRAINER MANUAL, developed over the last months by a collaborative team of authors from Southeast Asia and Canada. The Trainer Manual provides in-depth guidance on preparing Ecohealth courses and focuses on the following topcis:

  • Approaches to Designing and Teaching Ecohealth Courses
  • Introduction to Ecohealth
  • Participatory Research
  • Using Systems Concepts in Ecohealth
  • Collaboration and Transdisciplinarity
  • Disease Ecology
  • Agriculture and Health

We expect to formally launch the final manual along with 3 other mini-modules in early 2013 after a period of piloting and editing this year.   We are excited to be part of the growing Ecohealth community in Southeast Asia supporting Ecohealth field building.

Ecohealth Conference 2012

Vets without Borders is happy to be participating in this year’s 4th bi-annual Ecohealth Conference in Kunming, China.

Collaborating with partners from the Ecohealth Field Building Leadership Initiative in Southeast Asia and around the globe, VWB will present a talk on Collaboration and field building for Ecohealth education in Southeast Asia.

The Ecohealth Conference is an ideal forum to learn about ground-breaking research and praxis around the world, with a timely focus on Asia.  We hope to meet many friends and collaborators there!

In the midst of planning

This summer, one of our main projects is to work with the 11 villages of Houychiem to resurrect the Community Health Days first launched in 2010.

Intern Lauren Crawshaw is working with the Laos project team to plan and develop these community events for each village. Themes this year will be human-animal health risks, environmental management, rabies prevention and community participation.  As part of our efforts to continually improve our work, Lauren will be developing a comprehensive evaluation of the Community Health Days to determine their impacts on participants’ knowledge and health behaviours. More soon after our first Communith Health Day is launched this month!



Last week the Ontario Veterinary College hosted the Global Development Symposium at the University of Guelph, Canada as part of the celebrations for its 150th Anniversary.  Delegates came from all over the globe to share their experience in research and development that centred largely around the Ecohealth concept.  Among those delegates were VEVEP veterinarian Anne Drew and program co-coordinator Malavanh Chittavong who flew from Laos and Sweden respectively to share their experiences of the rabies vaccination campaign and poultry project that VWB have carried out in Lao PDR over the past 12 months.

Keynote speakers included politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis, Brian Evans, Chief Veterinary Officer of Canada and Dominique Charron, leader of the Ecohealth program at Canada’s International Development Research Centre and Veterinarians without Borders-Vétérinaires sans Frontières Canada’s own founding president, David Waltner-Toews.

Possibly more exciting than the presentations and speeches were the opportunities to chat with delegates about the great research and development programs happening worldwide such as Andria Jones-Bitton’s work on knowledge translation and research dissemination with Inuit in Iqaluit, Carol Zavaleta’s work in Peru on vulnerability of indigenous Amazonian communities to climate change and Karen Morrison’s work on ethics in population health research.  It was these conversations that were the most inspiring to keep on doing what we do!

Let’s hope that OVC makes this symposium an annual affair!

By Blanaid Donnelly

Pitch for Progress: Homemade pesticides to combat pest problems in rural Uganda

I have just returned from an enlightening four days at the Global Development Symposium in Guelph, Ontario. I had the pleasure to help represent Veterinarians without Borders at this conference. The schedule was jam packed with inspiring keynote speakers, including Mr. Stephen Lewis, and scientific presentations of exciting work that is being conducted around the globe.  It was extraordinary to see the passion towards positive sustainable change that transcended throughout the conference.

Amongst the key note speeches and scientific presentation there were ‘pitches for progress’ (pfp). A pfp was a presentation that was intended to present an idea that would change the world. Ideas ranged from creation of ‘one health’ networks, integration of one health into curriculums, and using homemade pesticides to combat pest problems in rural Uganda. The latter pitch being my own. I had the opportunity to present this pfp and receive valuable feedback that will strengthen my application and evaluation of the program.

I came up with the idea while talking with past volunteers of the Ugandan goat project. After discussing the current issues facing the farmers of the region, I was presented with the fact that their crops are being affected by pests, especially the borer worm. The Ugandan goat project works in coordination with the Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children (FAOC). FAOC has been developing a chick pea program in response to severe protein deficiency in the south west region of Uganda. Thirty-eight percent of children under five are chronically malnourished or developmentally stunted, 16% are underweight, and another 6% are acutely malnourished during illness or drought. The local diet is primarily starch based; consisting of plantains, cassava, or maize which is served with simple vegetables and sauce. Animal protein is too expensive for the majority of the farmers and only served on special occasions. The chick pea program was developed to address this issue. Using local chick pea varieties, farmers are encouraged to harvest their crop and sell a portion to increase income but retain the majority to increase their family’s protein intake. Chickpeas are known for their high quality of protein and relative ease to grow in tough conditions.

The scourge of pests is greatly decreasing the farmer’s chick pea yield.  While chemical pesticides are available, their use is unrealistic. These products are sold in bulk and are too expensive for the average farmer. These villagers often have no reliable means of transportation to obtain the pesticides. It is also not uncommon for these products to be tampered with, either watering down or adding chemicals that can be harmful to the people and animals. These chemicals are also very damaging to an unhealthy soil bed affected by years of monoculture plantain production.

What I proposed in my pfp was to experiment with different homemade pesticides using local products. From my research I came across effective pesticides made from marigold leaves, chilies, onions, garlics, and neem leaves or oil. These ingredients are boiled in water for 20 minutes or alternatively stand for 3 days. The solution is combined with soapy water and applied to the plants along with wood ash. This application is not new to Uganda. These methods have been successfully implemented at a small sustainable farm, St. Jude’s Family Projects, in central Uganda. I will be visiting this farm during my first week in Uganda to gain a better understanding of homemade pesticides and other sustainable agriculture solutions in rural Uganda.

I was nervous presenting this idea as it is beyond my formal training. When I discussed this idea with others they were often confused as to why I would address this issue and not something related to veterinary medicine. My response was always the same. Under the concept of eco-system health we are not bound to our professional limitations. Our goal is to realize a healthy population of people and animals while sustaining the environment. The pest and pesticide issue is of concern to the famers I will be working with and so I consider it my responsibility to do what I can to address the problem. A healthier chick pea crops and soil will lead to greater yields. Greater yields will improve childhood nutrition and family income. Greater income and nutrition will increase opportunities for childhood education and result in healthier immune systems, decreasing disease prevalence. Increased income will also result in more disposable income which can be used for animal vaccines, better shelters, and increased nutrition. Our animal health problems cannot be addressed by focusing on a single problem but rather by looking at the bigger picture. Healthy people and healthy environments will lead to healthier animals and more productive agricultural systems. For this to happen it needs two things. One is for people of different disciplines to explore beyond their profession. While my background is not in alternative agriculture, it did not take much for me to research potential applications for small hold farmers. The second is collaboration. I am not an expert in these techniques; my research has only scratched the surface on a vast body of knowledge. But through this research I was able to connect with people at home and abroad that are experts in this field. It is these contacts that will ultimately drive a successful project.  By collaborating with other professions, I can focus on the goats, while the experts I bring in or consult with will help to solve a problem that will further increase the health of the community.


The pitch itself flew by, but the research and preparation was extremely educational. The questions and comments from the audience created further contacts and options to explore. The entire conference had a very welcoming atmosphere. There were people from a variety of disciplines that came together to present and collaborate on One-Health. I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend and present at this conference and hope it becomes an annual event. I would like to thank VWB for their support.


Educators from around the world help develop training in Ecohealth

At Vets without Borders, we think everything is part of an ecosystem.  A city pet is part of an ecosystem which includes other animals, its owners, its vet, neighbours, and the urban environment.  The bacteria Salmonella is part of an ecosystem that includes the food people eat, the animals they produce, and the economic system that regulates trade in food.

In many developing countries, populations are growing, rural areas are becoming industrialized and poor people need alternative livelihoods to support their families.  As environments change, factors which influence people and animals’ health change too, and understanding people and their animals in the context of their ecosystems is ever more important.

It is for this reason that Vets without Borders is part of a ground-breaking new initiative to build the field of Ecosystem approaches to health (or Ecohealth) in Southeast Asia.  Veterinarians have a unique insight into the relationship between human, animal and environmental health and we are on a journey with our partners, members and supporters to help build a better world using these skills and understanding.

On 29-31 March, Vets without Borders convened the first major event of the Field Building Leadership Initiative for Ecohealth in Southeast Asia. With more than 20 people from Thailand, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and others, it set the path for a new form of training and education in Southeast Asian countries. This new training will focus on building collaboration between researchers and communities, understanding how equity and sustainability are core business for universities, and exploring the complex links between disease, agriculture, health and urbanization.

The cornerstone of the new training approach is an Ecohealth Trainer manual, written collaboratively by more than ten international authors, which will provide a template for teachers and students in developing courses in Ecohealth. Funded primarily by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the initiative is being spearheaded by regional champions who will build research and teaching of Ecohealth at their institutions.  At the March event, attendees said that everyone showed “commitment and participation” and “real progress was made with the manual thanks to so much quality collective work”.  We are lucky to be working with such motivated and visionary leaders around the world.

Mobile technology research sheds light to efficient poultry feeding

As part of an innovative project to launch later this year, VWB is working with educational publisher & new media developer Lifelearn and the University of Calgary, to launch a mobile technology based training model.

There is global recognition that smartphones and new media technology can have a huge impact on smallholder agriculture, from sms updates on crop prices and weather, pest management to outbreak and emergency response.
Yet our investigations showed few examples of mobile phone based training at the village level.  In this ambitious project, project team members and NUOL faculty will train PAHWs to use smartphone-based apps as training resources to add to the mentoring and training resources they receive in person. PAHWs will also be able to sms each other about latest developments and upload photos of the cases they encounter.


Leah Stephenson and Erin Fraser will be discussing this exciting project at the upcoming

Global Development Symposium in Guelph, Canada (6-9 May)

and at the Technologies for Sustainable Development: A Way to Reduce Poverty? event, 29-31 May, Lausanne, Switzerland.

In researching topics for the mobile based training, our team was excited to learn about various methods households employ to feed poultry and use resources efficiently.  Anne Drew and husband Thom recently met a woman farmer who uses pickled banana stem, grasses and amaranth to prepare feed for her poultry.  We hope that through this technology we can help facilitate more farmers to share their learnings and techniques and train and support each other.

More information will follow later this year when the smartphone project goes live!

Thanks to the IDRC, Lifelearn and University of Calgary for their generous funding and in-kind support.


EcoHealth: A Primer is available for download

This primer, written by David Waltner-Toews, President of Veterinarians without Borders / Vétérinaires sans Frontières – Canada (VWB/VSF) is a brief introduction to some key ideas and practices in what have come to be called an “ecosystem approach to health” , ecohealth or one health.
One Health is one of VWB/VSF’s guiding principles:

“We believe that the health of the many animals with which we share this planet, the ecosystems which are our common home, and the health of our own species are deeply connected. We seek solutions that address the root causes of the challenges facing disadvantaged communities. By sharing our skills and expertise in animal and ecosystem health, we strive to help improve human health, food production systems, and promote sustainable livelihoods.”

This principle is also reflected in the organization’s mission statement:

“Our mission is to work for, and with, communities in need to foster the health of animals, people, and the environments that sustain us.”

Click here to download the primer on ecohealth now.