Generation 2: Chick pass ons successful!

Working closely with veteran and incoming members of the poultry project, the team has supported new farmers in the  villages of Nakhao, Thachampa and Hat Viengkham to participate in Generation 2 of the project.

Since providing 6 days of classroom and practical training in February, the team has helped members build chicken houses to welcome their new chicks.  Through experience, the PAWHs are also taking a lead in coordinating renewed poultry vaccination campaigns, essential to ensure the pass on chicks are healthy and in good shape to hand over to new famers.  Generation 1 farmers feel proud to be able to pass on their chicks to new participants and are keen to continue receiving support and training from VWB and the PAHWs. This is guaranteed to help them with their long term success.

Mr Phomma and Mrs Mai of Hat Viengkham explained:

“We can gain a lot of knowledge on how to raise chickens while before we participated, we did not know much.  The hens of improved breeds do not sit after laying eggs, so we need to keep the eggs with local hens or ducks.  However, improved breeds can eat the same as local breeds but they can grow up faster than local breeds, they can adapt well to the environment.  Also, improved breeds can lay eggs faster than local ones and produce more eggs”.

Poultry vaccination for improved chickens

This month the Laos Village Ecohealth team and our Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) have been working hard to ensure new chicks and adults chickens receive their vaccinations of Newcastle disease and Infectious bronchitis. With current cold spells it is all the more important to ensure that not only are poultry being vaccinated, but also adequately fed and housed.

On my recent field visits with the team it was impressive to see the PAHWs work hard to create an efficient vaccination system. Anne, Lampheuy and Malavanh have been preparing a comprehensive training program for PAHWs and for the participants of VWB’s poultry project, which we launched last year.

The chicks you can see in the photos include improved breed yellow chickens. The team is using action research to determine the productivity and resilience of the new breed, encouraging families to keep some eggs for household consumption, as well as gaining income from future bird sales.

Poultry project participants, Hadviengkham village
PAHW and Ecohealth mentor vaccinate chickens, Thachampa village


Ontario Veterinary College students draw 600 chickens for Laos!

Adam Little, a third year student at Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, Ontario dressed up in a chicken costume as he promised to do if his classmates met his challenge to draw 600 chickens for Laos.

For the month of November, Aeroplan asked people to send in drawings of chickens and for each chicken drawing received, Aeroplan will donate $5 to help purchase a chicken for families in Laos. Every year, Aeroplan and one of its Beyond Miles charitable partners sends Aeroplan employees on an engagement trip.  These trips were created to inspire and engage Aeroplan employees by helping them see how and where our charitable partners use donated Aeroplan Miles. Earlier this year, Aeroplan employees Alison, Amanda and Luis joined Aeroplan’s Beyond Miles charitable partner Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB) on a trip to Laos.

Today, Alden Hadwen, Director of Community Engagement with Aeroplan visited OVC in Guelph to pick up the chicken drawings.

There are still 2 days for you to help.  To enter, please send your drawing or photo to: csr.aeroplan (at) by November 30th.



Vets without Borders is a finalist in Heska Inspiration in Action Contest – Vote Now!

Veterinarians without Borders/ Vétérinaires sans Frontières is one of five finalists that has a chance to win $25,000 in the national 2011 Heska Inspiration in Action Contest. Vote for VWB/VSF now!

By building healthy communities in some of the poorest developing countries, where people are struggling to recover from war and epidemic disease, the VWB/VSF program helps mitigate conditions that lead to instability and the spread of disease. In times of unstable climate, economy and politics, this creates a basis on which to build a more stable global community. Prize money from the contest would be used to support two ongoing projects in Laos and Uganda.

In today’s global economy and crowded planet, the health and welfare of animals and people everywhere are inter-connected. 60% of human diseases originate in animals, and is most acutely felt in developing countries where rural farmers rely heavily on animals for insurance, transport, labor, food, and income. In these developing countries, the veterinary profession now, more than ever, has the opportunity to help resolve challenges in food security, agriculture, equity, empowerment of women, and human and animal health. Currently, 70% of the global poor live in rural areas where women are challenged to provide 75% of agricultural labor and produce 80-90% of food.

Vote for VWB/VSF now! Voting is open to US citizens 18 yrs+.

Vaccination day in Paksapmai

Vaccination station

The first day of rabies vaccination in the Laos VEVEP Rabies Campaign was busy and productive. Eight students from the Veterinary (paravet) Program at the National University of Laos accompanied four faculty and VWB veterinarian Anne Drew, to Ban Paksapmei.  The three PAHWs – Primary Animal Health Workers – of the village met us at a corner store where a few villagers already waited with their dogs. Quickly stools and a table were set up to provide four stations. The first held the vaccination materials: muzzles and rope leashes, cooler with vaccine, needles and syringes, disposal containers for sharps and trash, and coloured neck markers for the vaccinated dogs. Then owners moved down a row providing recording and certificates, a short questionnaire on dog demographics and rabies awareness, and an information station where they received pamphlets in Lao and oral instruction. Emphasis was placed on what to do in the event of a dog bite and/or suspected rabies exposure: Wash the wound! Seek medical attention. Inform the authorities.

Lao dogs are rarely confined or leashed, but we had decided to require dogs be brought to a central location, rather than travelling house to house. This was due to time constraint – one day per village – and our feeling that given free vaccination, villagers could make the effort.  Some misgiving as to whether many would show up was quickly dispelled with the first rush between 8:30 and 10. Dogs came following their owners freely or carried in arms. Litters of puppies arrived with families of young children carrying one apiece. Some dogs walked, reluctantly, on ropes and chains. A number arrived by motorcycle – either in the basket carrier (loose!), or carried by a passenger. One lady even drove with her fully-grown dog clamped between her knees. The occasional upscale family brought dogs by car, and one gentleman had a wire cage on a traditional wooden handcart.

Dogs were vaccinated by a PAHW, under Faculty supervision, while students manned the remaining stations, and I circulated as troubleshooter. Although the vaccine is labeled for dogs over three months, in a rabies-control vaccination campaign it is recommended to vaccinate all dogs; research in Tanzania has shown that young pups mount a strong immune response. I’m personally less comfortable vaccinating under 4 weeks, so we chose this age as cutoff in our public announcements, but vaccinated any presented.

An occasional dog escaped when attempts were made to muzzle it, and the team is learning to make sure panicky dogs are well secured before proceeding. Lao dogs, though unused to restraint, are well treated and generally good tempered, and no one was injured. The team shared a lunch of chicken soup, papaya salad and rice, before proceeding to the afternoon location. In all, 148 dogs and 6 cats were vaccinated.  The Campaign will cover the remaining 10 project villages over the next 11 days, with a two day break for the Lao Boat Racing Festival, also the end of the three month Rains Retreat for Buddhist monks.

By Anne Drew

Preparing for World Rabies Day in Laos.

This year Vets without Borders is launching a new rabies campaign in Laos. Many people and agencies who work with rabies recognise that despite being a fatal disease, it is often neglected by funding agencies and health programs. Yet the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Call for Action to eliminate rabies by 2020 is a promising backdrop. Rabies prevention is complex and is a perfect example of a ‘One Health’ problem which can be best addressed using ‘Ecohealth’ approaches.

Rabies is endemic in Laos and although there is no up to date surveillance data, a 2002 study in Vientiane showed that only 48% of sampled dogs had been vaccinated against rabies: recommended coverage to eliminate rabies from a population is at least 70%.

This October, the Laos VEVEP project, through the National University of Laos, will mobilise our 33 Primary Animal Health Workers to vaccinate dogs in their villages and reach maximum coverage. Dog vaccination is shown to be the cheapest and most effective way to prevent rabies. Its impact is even greater when combined with public education, responsible dog ownership, dog population management and access to human vaccine for bite victims. Long-term vet volunteer Anne Drew will be leading the team in October to help fight rabies in Laos, and cooperating with other agencies in the country. Let’s make rabies history!

Laos Livelihoods: poultry for income generation


This summer the Laos VEVEP team, in response to farmers’ requests, added a new livelihoods focus to the project in Laos. In addition to our regular support of Primary Animal Health Workers, we have now worked closely with 42 families in 3 villages to provide training in poultry management, and distributed chicks on a ‘give back to the project’ basis. The project supports mix-breeds and aims to allow farmers to grow healthier and more productive chickens, thus gaining income from increased sales, as well as increased access to chicken meat as and when needed.


Farmers have been keen to start good habits like vaccinating their chickens more regularly and ensuring good quality housing and feed. Through the ongoing support of the PAHWs we are developing a new project model to branch out to other villages next year.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Anne Drew.


Sitting here reminiscing three days before we hop on the plane to North America, we both can attest to the fact that the summer has proved to be above and beyond our expectations. The following is the summary of our contributions:

Over our 3 month placement, we were responsible for teaching English classes to University teachers and students for 3 hours per week. We aimed to focus our lessons on conversational skills and pronunciation, as these areas were where students felt most uncomfortable. Once our initial jitters passed, we found that teaching was extremely satisfying; the students absorbed English like a sponge. As well, teaching offered a fantastic boost for our confidence and public speaking skills.

On the other end of the spectrum, two colleagues and now life-long friends (Ms. Outhevy VONGMANY and Mr. Nouansisavad SOMBOUNDSACK) taught us Lao language lessons every Monday and Tuesday. The focus was basic vocabulary and pronunciation, which helped us tremendously with communication on a daily basis. We quickly faced the difficulties of learning a new language, as we struggled with hearing and pronouncing the different tones and inflections. At least our struggling offered quite a lot of comic relief to those around us. As a result, we gained a greater appreciation of how challenging it must be for Lao people to learn English.

In addition to Lao language, we were also taught Lao culture lessons from Ms. Outhomphone SENVISET. The beginning of our lessons were filled with dance steps and contrary to our ambitions to master all the dances (like the Bousloup) at the end of the summer, we still managed to look like flailing hippos. Ms. Outhomphone’s students also spent time teaching us about other aspects of Lao culture and serenaded us with amazing music. We taught the students about North American culture in the process, which is quite a hard concept to define, since our diversity and cultural practices are extremely broad.

For one weekend in June, we volunteered at a Summer English Camp run by School Support Laos, a Norwegian NGO. Over 100 secondary school students from Savannakhet Province participated in the camp, which was divided into 20 stations with different assigned activities. We worked with the teachers to help develop the activities and run the stations for two days. As we were the only native English speaking people at the camp, we were able to offer a unique experience to the students by speaking in our native tongue. The weekend was great and we walked away with many new memories, pictures and friendships.

Another fantastic weekend was spent on a field trip to Champasack Province with over one hundred students from the Savannakhet University Agricultural Department. The purpose of the trip was for the students to gain a greater knowledge of the environment and integrated agriculture in regions outside of Savannakhet Province. We crammed many sites into the 3 day trip, including a visit to the Integrated Agriculture Centre of Champasack University, the Bolivian Plateau, coffee plantations, waterfalls, elephants and the Champasack Cultural Centre. The students were all ecstatic that we joined them and by the end of the weekend our hearts were happy and cheeks quite numb from constant smiling for their photoshoots.

We also accompanied our colleagues with field work twice a week within districts throughout Savannakhet province. Our responsibilities included vaccine administration for Foot and Mouth Disease and diagnosing/medicating sick cattle and pigs. We appreciated that the management practices in Laos are entirely different than those in North America and this provided us with an incredible opportunity to analyze the pros and cons between the two systems. Interacting with the farmers and their families was an experience in itself. It was nice to see how thoroughly the farmers enjoyed their work and their intense appreciation of the efforts Savannakhet University was making to help prevent large scale outbreaks of FMD. For these reasons (and the opportunity to take motorbike rides to remote areas outside of Savannakhet), field service gave us a remarkable appreciation of the beauty of the Laos land, its people and is something that we will forever cherish.

A large portion of our time at SKU was devoted to developing a 50 page veterinary terminology dictionary for the staff and students of the university. We took the knowledge of veterinary medicine from our Canadian education and used this to develop the structure of the dictionary. We focused on different aspects of veterinary medicine including anatomy, immunology, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and veterinary procedures. The long term plan to translate this dictionary into Lao is very exciting because we feel it consists of fundamental knowledge needed for a career in veterinary medicine. In addition, we helped develop various syllabi for new classes that SKU is adding to their veterinary health curriculum. Some of these courses included Artificial Breeding and Pregnancy, Epidemiological Surveillance, General Clinical Practice, Integrated Agriculture, Economic Insect Production, Veterinary Ethics and Law, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Service Management.

Before leaving Canada, numerous professors and students from the Atlantic Veterinary College in PEI donated over 50 veterinary books which we passed on to the University for use by both the teachers and students. We would like to thank all of the professors and students at Atlantic Veterinary College who made this possible. We genuinely hope that the books are useful for both curriculum development and a source of educational material for students and teachers.

We would like to express our deepest thanks to everyone at Savannakhet University who made this project possible. We had had an unforgettable three months here because of their continuous generosity and kindness. We would also like to thank Veterinarians Without Borders for facilitating this project. The experiences that we have had and the friendships that we have made will never be forgotten. Thanks to Laos, we will board the plane back to North America more humble, happy, passionate and grateful.


Hellos and Goodbyes

This is an exciting time for VWB/VSF in Lao PDR. We have formed two new partnerships in Savannakhet Province. Savannakhet University (SKU) and the Eco Guide Unit (EGU) are hosting our first Student Volunteer Placements in Laos. Four veterinary students from the Atlantic Veterinary College, Prince Edward Island, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Saskatchewan and Faculté de Médecine Vétérinaire, Quebec are volunteering in Lao PDR for three months.

One project, in association with a PhD researcher in primate conservation, hopes to establish the presence of Silvered Leaf Monkeys (Trachypithecus germaini) in the Dong Phouvieng National Protected Area. The species is classified as globally endangered and the project will explore the related conservation and ecotourism implications of such findings. Two other volunteers based at SKU will be helping to develop curriculum materials for a Bachelor degree program in Animal Science. With the majority of Lao people depending on subsistence agriculture, programs such as this help to build much needed capacity. These volunteers will also be helping with vaccination programmes and teaching English.

Sadly, we have recently said goodbye to Dr Anne Drew and her husband Thom who have just completed their second volunteer mission with the Village Ecohealth and Veterinary Extension Project in Xaythany District, Vientiane province, and their contributions have been invaluable. The couple has become part of the Nabong community and their absence is already being felt. A huge thank you to them for all of their hard work and dedication.

Part of Anne and Thom’s work included setting the groundwork for a poultry project and establishment of rural veterinary drug vendors. Updates on these activities to follow soon…

Desert Lake

Jen and I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed early Monday morning, anxious and excited for our first day of work at Savannahket University, over a week ago today. A little too early perhaps, as we arrived in a tuk tuk 30 minutes early, and tried to hide ourselves under a tree to avoid looking overly keen. The morning started with a meeting with Dr. Bounheuang, the Acting Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, outlining what is expected of us over our three months spent both on and off the campus. He stressed that curriculum development was their main priority, as the bachelor of animal husbandry and medicine is still in its infancy, and
still needs much additional content and fine tuning. We also discussed helping to develop a veterinary terminology dictionary (translated from English to Laos for the students), writing grant proposals, and to develop/implement vaccine protocols in surrounding farms and villages. Also mentioned was the undertaking of teaching English to the professors; an amazing opportunity, but slightly
terrifying…i’m relying on Jen to coax away my stage fright.

The first field trip of the week was a motorbike ride to a neighboring farming village, where we will help administer vaccines for foot and mouth disease (FMD). It was shocking for us to hear that this disease is rampant all over Laos, when our own country has put sweat, blood and tears into making sure that it stays eradicated. Unfortunately, limited resources and money means limited ability to effectively segregate individual species and farms. Last year, over 400,000 cattle were slaughtered due to FMD in Laos. A sad reality for the farmers and their attempts to prevent disease transmission.

For the majority of the week, Jen and I spent our time working on the dictionary and trying to communicate in broken English and Laos with our new friends in the office. The highlight of the week at SKU was our first weekly dance lesson taught by a kind…and very patient…professor on campus. Jen and I were a sight to behold, with our clumsy feet and rubbery arms, but we can now officially bring some steps with us home to Canada, at the price of dozens of students watching us in the doorways in fits of giggles.

Along with having our first slightly catastrophic English lesson at the end of the week, we’ve also been
stuffing our bellies with the most delicious traditional Laos food in a restaurant across the road: papaya salad, bamboo soup, sticky rice (you had me at hello) and laap (it’s a whole lot tastier when you don’t think about the parts
you’re eating).

All in all, an excellent week, and we’re fantastically excited for what the summer has in store for us.