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.

Sincerely,

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

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!