Evaluating Food Insecurity and Malaria-Free Progress in Vientiane

By Dr. David Zakus and Debbie Spicer

Our first visit to support Health Poverty Action in Laos, supported by VWB/VSF, was an adventure we were both really looking forward to.  Leaving Toronto just as winter was beginning to take hold was a kind of relief, and landing in Vientiane after about 36 hours on the road, surely didn’t disappoint.  Arriving at night wasn’t ideal, but presented no problems.  We were met at the airport by Thomas Weigel, VWB’s representative in SE Asia, which was great, and en route to our hotel he quickly gave us some orientation which continued the next day at lunch.  This wasn’t our first time to Laos, but we had been tourists before and had not stayed for too long, though we had begun to gain a great appreciation for the country.  This appreciation has certainly continued to grow during our whole 16 days of this trip, which ended on December 13, when we left as we arrived, late in the evening.

Our first ten days were spent in Vientiane, getting oriented to the sites, sounds, food and pace of life, all the while continuing to learn about the new nutrition and malaria projects we have come to support, in both the baseline assessments and evaluation and capacity building.  A true highlight of our days in Vientiane was a whole afternoon at the house of one of the senior staff, as part of a monthly office get-together, which involved a homemade feast of fish, chicken, vegetables, herbs (often eaten just freshly picked and washed) and the ever present sticky rice, which usually comes in an individual serving basket.

A lovely HPA-VWB dinner

What a wonderful way it was to further get to know all the great staff in the Vientiane office, which is run by a most capable and likeable manager, Ronaldo Estera, from the Philippines.  We mention capable because he seems to really excel in human relations, and program development and management.  David, being a professor of health services management for some 20 years, found the office here being run with all that he holds important in creating effective teams and achieving results, in particular building a strong organization culture.

After a great orientation, which also involved a long weekend with the country’s national day, we headed to the southern provinces where we gained exposure to the local project staff and their work.  En route to Khong in Champasak province, site of the new malaria project which is supported financially by Comic Relief, we stopped at a malaria control post and met the village health and malaria volunteers in their office, which was part of the malaria volunteer’s home, and then later visited a nearby community health centre.  At both we learned about the services provided and the work accomplished.  We learned  how the workers engage the communities and how proud they are to be part of HPA’s work overall.  Continuing on, we stopped at an area of amazing waterfalls on the Mekong River, with Cambodia way in the distance, and had one of the best fish lunches we have ever had.

Arriving later that day in Khong was also exciting as the Friday evening was the beginning of a major annual boat race festival.  Khong, being a small riverside town, was exploding with people and energy including a rock concert in a big field where a giant stage had been erected.  We enjoyed more great fish and vegetables and the ubiquitous Beer Lao, which truly seems to be a national drink, all the while sitting on the edge of the big Mekong River.

Photo of the boat race in Khong

The next day, now Saturday, saw the boat races start before 9am and continue for most of the afternoon.  The highlight was watching the HPA supported village team race past us to glory finishing in the winner’s circle, and all the while paying witness, through their shirts and hats, to HPA’s ‘Together towards a malaria-free Laos in 2030” campaign. Wow, we were now getting fully integrated, wearing our t-shirts and getting noticed by many local people.

Debbie wearing her HPA malaria-free shirt

The malaria program in Champasak has many strategies, like case detection and treatment, health education and behaviour change, and it’s focused on migrant and mobile hard to reach rural populations who are the most vulnerable to the devastating disease.

Before leaving the next day we had a most delightful fish, herbs and sticky rice breakfast at the home of a local staff member, and then headed back north, through Pakse (after stopping to pick up some local coffee beans) to Khaek, the provincial capital of Khammoune province where we were to meet with local officials for HPA to finalize its MOU with various levels of government.  The meeting took place the following day, and was so interesting, with at least 35 officials all participating to finalize an agreement of how to implement a very large and complex nutrition and food security project, funded mostly by the EU but also with the People To People Foundation, SODA (a local civil society umbrella organization) and HPA itself.

Though we had to leave early to get back to Vientiane for our flight out of Laos the next day, we got a good sense of how things work in Laos and how things are to proceed, especially after a detailed meeting with HPA leadership about many aspects of the project.

As we write we’re in our final hours in Vientiane, full of appreciation, learning and respect for such a great HPA staff, their government partners, the communities to be engaged over the next few years and this wonderful country overall.

Better Livelihoods from livestock in rural Laos

By Dr. Anne Drew

IMG_4347smallDr. Anne discussing body condition of a goat with Mr. Phok, one of the Village Veterinary Workers.

Sepon is a remote district in the extreme west of south-central Laos, just 40 km. from the Vietnam border. With my husband Thom, I’m here for 4 ½ months, assisting with a project called Resilient Livelihoods for the Poor(RLP), in which Vets Without Borders is partnered with Health Poverty Action, a British-based NGO that has worked in Laos for 23 years.
RLP in Sepon works with 400 extremely poor families in 25 ethnic-minority villages, to start them in income-generating enterprises of their own choosing. Nearly all of the families chose small livestock enterprises, and most of these chose goats. The goats are a hardy local variety, much prized for meat for special occasions, and excellent demand exists for them here and just across the border in Vietnam.
In my capacity as Animal Health and Nutrition Adviser, I’ve been assisting the Lao Livestock Health Adviser, Choummala, a graduate of the Veterinary program at the National University. Over my first 8 weeks we conducted an animal health survey in the project villages, evaluating the health and productivity status of the goats, pigs and poultry, in the second year of the project. We visited a random selection of households in each village and conducted a short interview, with questions about reproduction, disease and losses, and feeding. Then we examined the animals and collected fecal samples for quantification of parasite loads. We treated any sick or injured animals that we found as we went.
The goats obtain all of their feed by free-range browsing now in the dry season, but in the rainy season are sometimes kept in for cut-and carry feeding. Ill health and losses are often caused by parasitism, injuries, and sadly, theft. Young kid mortality is also high. These results highlight appropriate education and interventions to increase the success of the enterprises.

IMG_3978smallMs.  Choummala interviewing Ms. Huay about her goats as she works at the loom under her house.

Since mid-March we’ve been implementing an advertising and vaccination/deworming campaign in each project village. We call an evening meeting and after introductions, show 2 videos on the rationale for vaccinating and deworming livestock. These were produced in Lao by CARE International, but we had voiceover in Brou, the minority language, added. Discussion of the videos and personal experience follows, with prizes for participation. We’re also promoting the services of the three Village Veterinary Workers trained by the project, and explaining the need to charge for the service – so the activity will be sustainable. Then, starting early the next morning, we move through the village in 2 teams, treating animals at as many households as will accept the service. Starting early enables us to find the animals and the owners still at home, and avoids the intense heat in the middle of the day.

IMG_4158 1smallMr. Muey in Latuengnai, presenting his goat for examination.

Government counterparts from Livestock and Fisheries, Rural Development, Labour and Social Welfare, and Planning and Investment participate, so the work goes quickly. We vaccinate against devastating endemic diseases: goats for Foot and Mouth Disease, cattle and buffalo for Hemorrhagic Septicemia and FMD, pigs for classical swine fever, chickens for Newcastle, Fowl Cholera and Fowl Pox, ducks for Fowl Cholera and viral enteritis.

IMG_3310smallAnne and Thom (with assistants not shown) treating a septic goat with a maggot-infested wound.

A durable calendar noting important times for livestock care and sales and promoting the VVWs was produced, and one is given to every village household.Participation by project households has been excellent, as they are already aware of the procedures and benefits. Non-project livestock keepers are coming on-board in smaller numbers. As more families see and understand the benefits, we hope that every biannual campaign will see increased participation.

IMG_5105smallMs. Choummala recording vaccination/deworming date, and next treatment date, on a calendar promoting livestock health care.

IMG_5886smallThom restraining a young bull for vaccination.

IMG_4993smallThe vaccination team in Palongnai village, with VWB volunteers, 2 Village Vet Workers, Ms. Choummala, government counterparts, and the village goat group leaders on the right.

IMG_5853smallMr. Phon, one of the village Vet Workers, vaccinating a goat for FMD.


Animal Health Training in Laos

By Thomas and Anne Drew

GoatA goat recovering from injury after being stuck in a vine.

Anne and I made an early start for the first day of Anne’s Animal Health Survey. We started in Mai village, the most remote of all our project villages at 70km.away and very near the Vietnamese border.  That day, as often after, the survey took longer than expected because we were asked to treat sick animals as well. The very first house had a goat that got its leg trapped in a vine and was missing for almost a week until the owner found it. The goat had broken the bone and sloughed off a lot of skin, and the leg was healing in a deformed shape. Anne treated it with antibiotics and pain meds, as it was nursing a young kid that still needed the milk;  but she advised the owner that he should sell it for meat in a few months as it would be difficult for it to do well through another pregnancy. We went back to check it about 10 days later, and the leg was dry and the swelling reduced.

Goat HouseA goat house built in a vegetable garden.

At another household I gave Mr. Phok, the village veterinary worker, a hoof trimming lesson, and gave him his own Swiss Army knife. I pick these up second hand from those confiscated at Halifax Airport Security check. They make great gifts, and can help the VVWs to perform a needed service.

anne4Dr. Anne Drew and Mr. Phok examining a goat.

One of my jobs has been to take lots of photos of the team at work. After a great village lunch of purple sticky rice and jaew  (spicy chili dipping sauce), BBQ fish, eggplant and pureed greens we visited 4 more goat farmers in Salan Tai village and at the last one saw a great example of a creative use of resources. His goat house is built in his vegetable garden and he has planted things the goats wont eat on their way in and out: onions, cucumbers, pumpkins and herbs. The manure drops down and feeds the garden, everything was lush even though it is the dry season. It was beautiful!

Farmers Group Introduces Innovative Cricket Products to the Lao Market

Farmers Group Introduces Innovative Cricket Products to the Lao Market

By Thomas Weigel

Together with the Food Processing Unit of the Faculty of Agriculture, our 16 cricket farmers have gone a long way to develop and refine cricket-based products. It all started with the idea to process frozen crickets into value-added products and generate some income during the cold season when the cricket production usually slows down or stops. An additional consideration was to make use of crickets which are of too small to be sold raw at the markets.

During initial workshops, which took place in the village, the farmers learned how to produce cricket chips and cricket chili paste with simple means locally available.

Pounding crickets & other ingredients               Making the dough for chips

 image001           image003

Steaming the dough           Slicing the dough               Drying the chips slices in the sun


In order to sell the products, the farmers then decided to develop labels for the chips and the chili paste, use proper packaging, and do some product promotion.

Label for chili paste              Label for cricket chip                      Producer group label

image011 image013             image015

Product promotion poster (English version)


As the raining season approached, which made the drying of the chips more difficult, the production was shifted to the faculty’s food laboratory.

Production of chips and chili paste in the food laboratory


To assess the market potential, the products were then introduced to and promoted at markets and restaurants in Vientiane.

Products displayed at market stalls in Vientiane

     image027   image031

Through the feedback of the market sellers and restaurants, the cricket farmers learned that they had to adjust the recipes of the products more to the tastebuds of their potential customers: they reduced the spiciness of the chili paste and increased the salt content of both products. In addition to this, the producer group has to work with the faculty’s Food Processing Unit to increase the shelf life of the chili paste.

In order to ensure product quality and safety, the cricket farmers participated in a workshop on hygiene and food safety measures.

Workshop on Hygiene & Food Safety Measures

image035            image039

The product promotion and the customer feedback showed that there is a demand for these cricket-based products. Since then, a larger restaurant has placed a substantial order for crickets and cricket chips, and is willing to introduce the cricket farmers and their products to a wider network of restaurants in Vientiane. However, challenges remain. To fully tap into the market potential, the producer group will have to develop further and also ensure a continuous supply of the products. In addition to further support from VWB and faculty, the Agriculture Extension and Cooperative Section under the Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office has agreed to assist the cricket farmers in the developing their business. We hope that in the near future, consumers in Laos will have access to their novel and nutritious cricket products.

Laos–Key Stakeholders Assess Project Results

As VWB’s 3-year project “Improving Food Security and Rural Livelihoods in Cambodia and Laos (Foodlive Camlao)”will end in December this year, and following a recent meeting with external stakeholders, such as international NGOs and government staff, a Final Stakeholder Meeting was conducted at the Faculty of Agriculture (FAG) together with 11 village chiefs of the project villages in Hoychiem community, local representatives of the Women’s Union, 11 village veterinary workers, and farmers who had participated in the project’s different activities. In addition to this, project team members and staff of the faculty joined the meeting, which was chaired by Associate Professor Fongsamouth, the faculty’s Vice Dean and Project Supervisor.

Following introductory speech given by Assoc. Prof. Fongsamouth, Dr. Daovy (FAG lecturer & project coordinator), gave a short overview of the project history. Then, Mr. Sisavath (FAG lecturer & project trainer) presented the project’s veterinary activities, namely the training of village veterinary workers and veterinary drug vendors, animal health monitoring, rabies vaccination campaigns, and village-wide poultry vaccinations. After this, Dr. Lampheuy (FAG lecturer & project coordinator) explained the results of the implemented livelihoods activities (i.e. crop farming, forage production, poultry farming, and insect farming) and of the Community Health Days.

After the presentations, the Vice Dean asked representatives of all present villages for their feedback and their plans for the future. All participants expressed their gratitude for being able to join the project activities and many of them want to continue with the activities after the end of the project. The Vice Dean encouraged the participants of the meeting to take an active part in the development of their villages and emphasized the commitment of the faculty to assist in this endeavour.

On behalf of the faculty, Assoc. Prof. Fongsamouth handed over certificates to VWB’s project officers Margot and Thomas, and thanked them for their work.

Finally, all village representatives were asked to participate in an end-of-project survey to assess their satisfaction with the different project activities and their relevance for them.

Certificates Margot Thomasfinal group photo

Final Stakeholder Meeting

In December 2015, VWBs 3-year project “Improving Food Security and Rural Livelihoods in Cambodia and Laos (Foodlive Camlao)” will officially end. Last week, VWB organized together with its main partner, the Faculty of Agriculture/National University of Laos, a Final Stakeholder Meeting to present the project results, lessons learned, and recommendations for the future to representatives of Lao government and local/international NGOs.

During the meeting, members of the Foodlive Camlao team gave presentations about the particular activities they had been responsible to coordinate: Dr. Malavan (Faculty of Agriculture) presented the two poultry activities in Thachampa and Douniean, Dr. Lampheuy (Faculty of Agriculture) explained about the work of the crop farmers from Douniean and forage farmers in Nakhao and she also presented the just finished community health day implemented in schools of 10 villages; Thomas (VWB) showed how the 15 women cricket farmers are doing in Hatviengkham and Margot (VWB) talked about the work the 26 PAHWs, 2 rural drug vendors and 80 veterinary students have been doing.

Daovy (Faculty of Agriculture), the overall field coordinator of the Foodlive Camlao project, was orchestrating the whole ceremony and Prof Fongsamouth, (Vice-Dean) gave inspiring opening and closing speeches in front of many guests from the District and Province Agriculture and Forestry Offices, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Public health, Local clinics, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National University of Laos and from development organizations as well.

Interesting questions were asked and we hope this meeting will be the starting point of new collaborations…

Another stakeholder meeting will be organized soon at the Faculty with our more direct stakeholders: farmers, village chiefs, PAHWs, teachers… We will keep you posted!







Question time

Question time

Lao Veterinary Student Travels to Japan to Present VWB’s Rabies Project

Souay Vongsichaleune is a 4th year student in bachelor of Animal Science at the Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos. Recently he participated in the 15th International Student Summit in Tokyo, Japan with many other students from all over the world.

The topic of the summit this year was “Food, Agriculture and Environment in the new century” and all students had to present an activity related to this topic that students were implementing in their own faculty.

Souay decided to present the rabies campaign that Vets without Borders has organized together with the Faculty of Agriculture in the 11 villages of Houychiem Community. Every year many veterinary students receive refresher training on rabies – cause, transmission, symptoms, prevention of the disease – and have then the opportunity to practice dog restraining and vaccination as well as participating in the awareness raising part of the campaign.

If dogs are the main reservoir of the disease in Laos, it can also contaminate humans and livestock such as cattle, buffaloes, pigs or goats; cases in those species mainly originating from dog bites. Thus by vaccinating dogs, people prevent rabies cases to outbreak in their community dogs and thus prevent the occurring of cases in humans or other livestock. Thus, they protect themselves from the economic impact that the loss of a cattle head from rabies would have on the household economics.

Souay learned a lot, met many people and discovered a new country during this summit!

On his experience there he said: “Meeting people from all over the world was wonderful, exciting and scary at the same time. People are the same everywhere. Having friendship with people talking different languages is so fantastic that everybody should experience it.”

We are very proud he could present Vets without Borders’ work at this summit!

Below are some pictures from his adventure!


IMG-20151011-WA0009 IMG-20151011-WA0013 IMG-20151011-WA0016 IMG-20151011-WA0019 IMG-20151011-WA0021 IMG-20151011-WA0022

Lao Veterinary Students Ace their Final Examinations!

In the middle of September, 4th and 5th year students were getting ready for their last round of Animal Health Monitoring. This last round was also to be their final evaluation, as this activity has been integrated in their curriculum.Sisavath, Chantha, Dethaloun, Khao, Amphone and Bounthang, who are all teachers, also got ready for the evaluation by expanding the planning, deciding on evaluation criteria and practicing with the evaluation form.  Dr. Maude Pauly joined the team to add some more samples to her survey on zoonotic viruses. This gave her the the opportunity to update the students on the first results from her survey.

The students were very dedicated to the work both in the field and in the lab. They were assessed on how they could perform clinical examination of animals, sample collection, and laboratory analysis. In addition, they were asked more theoretical questions on normal values of physiologic parameters and on the protocols used for laboratory analyses or on diseases caused by the parasites they could identify.

All groups succeed in the final evaluation and received a certificate of completion from Prof. Fongsamouth and a scoring attestation from Margot last week during a small ceremony. The FoA teachers, students and VWB staff all gave great speeches.We are looking forward to the next project where the same type of work will be done on more infrequent basis and in different locations, so that students still have the opportunity to get field experience.

Linda and Salongxay counting the rumen movement frequency on a cow2015-09-15 08.42.54

Soukanya and Khamxaixong counting the rumen movement frequency on a goat, while Prof Chantha assesses their technique:2015-09-15 07.42.53

Thitoudon and Namfon checking the color of mucosal membrane of a cow:SAM_3674 - Copy

Seesuphan and Yeng Li practicing blood smears in the lab:P1290720

Manisa, Bounsom, Xayavanh and Kampasong checking the temperature of a young buffalo:P1290671

Mailar and Lattana examining the mouth of a goat:2015-09-14 18.03.18

Prof Fongsamouth giving Nouna her certificate:SAM_4086

Margot giving Sisouphan his score attestation:SAM_4137

Group picture with Vannaphone, Amphone, Maude, Margot, Prof Fongsamouth, Chantha, Bounthang, all the students with their certificates, Kampasong and Sisavath from left to right:P1290857

Certificate Presentation to PAHWs in Laos

This last week, in the Faculty of Agriculture, all PAHWs (Primary Animal Health Workers) from the Houychiem community in Laos attended the last two big gathering events for the current Foodlive Camlao project.

On Day 1, all PAHWs participated in a training for cattle reproduction and obstetrics with several of the university professors and our own vet, Margot. Since PAHWs have a lot of experience as farmers, we used a group format to understand and integrate their knowledge into the training.  The best way to practice identifying a calf position was using a stuffed animal and a fake uterus! The day concluded in with a farm visit to practice Burdizzo castration on livestock. They were all very enthusiastic to learn about the new techniques!

Day 2 brought discussion of the “One Health” concept and more specifically, the health risks that can be associated with being a PAHW.  The group discussed the impact of animal diseases on human health, the impact of climate change and urbanization on farming activities and the impact of poor use of antibiotics. The PAHWs went on to visit a forage and silage production units and were very interested in learning the different types of grass they could grow for their cattle and how many cattle they can feed with one ray of grass field.  They also learned about biomedical waste disposal by visiting a facility that was built with VWB support!

In the afternoon, all PAHWs put on their brand new T-shirts to receive their final certificate from Prof. Fongsamouth and Erin, VWB’s executive director who came from Canada to visit our Lao project. They also received signboards for their house, scoring attestations, “menus” with all the services they can offer and the prices for them to advertise their work in the village office. Village chiefs, staff from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Province and the District Agriculture and Forestry Offices attended the ceremony, as well as teachers from the Faculty who were involved in the PAHW training. We look forward to working with the Faculty of Agriculture to expand the project and conduct new PAHW training throughout Laos!



Prof. Kampasong giving instructions to Phonethip, Khamla and Vanthong for the group work


Kouadouayang, Kamphoun, Xayphone, Lenyang and Vongsong reflectiong on the impact of urbanization


Prof Sisavath, Khamhuk, Sweden, Sophone and Boun in front of the Biomedical waste disposal device


Prof Viengsakoun explaining the recipe for grass silage production

SAM_3753 Labu, Khamla and Khamhuck doing the burdizzo castration


Latee demonstrating how to identify calf position


Phomma describing the signs of calving in cattle


Prof Viengksakoun and PAHWs in an Elephant grass field


2-Day Poultry Exchange Visits

To share the good results of the farmers from our two poultry activities in Douniean and Thachampa, we invited PAHWs, poultry farmers and village chiefs from 12 other villages to an exchange visit at the beginning of August. Staff from the District and Province Agriculture and Forestry Offices joined the visit as well.

Mentors from the faculty presented the objectives of the two different activities:
– A model village for poultry vaccination, where all poultry farmers in the village are vaccinating their poultry against Fowl Cholera and Newcastle disease, thanks to a local regulation, and recording their farms’ performances, to be compared to the poultry production level with another village where farmers don’t vaccinate;
– A village where 12 model farmers have been selected to apply improved farming technics in addition with vaccination;

Then PAHWs from Douniean and Thachampa presented their role within the activities: organizing the vaccination campaign, giving advice on farming practices to farmers during mentoring visits, and helping to deliver trainings. The village chief from Thachampa also explained how the activity has been enforced and made sustainable by the setting up of a local regulation, making poultry vaccination compulsory in the village.

Finally, we went to visit three selected farmers from each villages to have a look at their farm.They explained about the changes they have made in their farms thanks to the project and the impact it had on their poultry production.

Visiting farmers had the opportunity to ask questions to mentors, PAHWs and farmers and they were especially interested in vaccination protocol and techniques, economical impact of the poultry activity in the households, and the feed formula used by farmers They requested to have a poultry manual to have access to all this information, so that will be our next project!

In the end, we were very happy to see that the rain and the very muddy roads didn’t discourage the farmers to come and to visit the farms

From farm to farm, under the rain:SAM_3576

A poultry farmer in Thachampa:

Somphone, PAHW from Thachampa explaining about feed formula:SAM_3616

Checking the chicken house in a farm in Thachampa:SAM_3615

PAHWs and village chief of Thachampa, explaining about the local regulation:SAM_3613

A model farmer in Douniean showing her farm to visitors:SAM_3607

Another model farmer in Douniean showing her farm to visitors:SAM_3606

All participants on the second day of visit:SAM_3585

Malavanh and Bounlerth showing impact of vaccination on the number of hatched chickens:SAM_3598

A farmer in Thachampa, talking about his farm management techniques:SAM_3579

Another farmer from Thachampa in front of his poultry house: