Moving forward in 2014

It’s only February but it’s been a busy 2014 so far! Last week we ran the third intensive week of PAHW training, helping the PAHWs move to being more self-sufficient in basic animal health skills and advising on farm management.

The vegetable production project is going from strength to strength as farmers practise recording their production activities and learning about how to market their vegetables – producing a regular supply, varied selection, and coordinating their crops. It will take some months for everyone to really get a hang of it but some of the motivated volunteers are leading the way.

Greenhouse becoming

There has been impressive progress in greenhouse building at Dounien village these past few weeks!

The nearby organic farm has helped train the model farmers to build their own greenhouses, and the project has provided training on ‘How to make composted soil for seedling bed’ and ‘How to record farm activities’.  Mentors found that composted soil for seedling is needed, as seed is easily damaged by ants, ground insects and weeds, during the germination period.

Farmers can start growing their vegetables before completing the greenhouses.


PAHWs at the forefront

This month has seen the relaunch of the successful Livestock Clinics in 5 villages in Houychiem. Combining in-depth practical training with community outreach, the clinics are a way to give PAHWs village-based training whilst sensitising farmers to the importance of livestock vaccination, parasite burdens, and general farm management.

Using learner-centred approaches, the team encourages each PAHW to do a clinical exam, assess the situation of each animal and make a decision on appropriate treatment.  The PAHWs are thus building up their problem-solving skills during real case examples.   This week the clinics have focused on blackleg vaccination and parasite treatment.

The clinics were alsoa great opportunity to share knowledge about traditional treatments, such as using lemon for eye infections.   Check out some of the pictures here!

Livestock clinic team in Napok
Learning to assess body weight
Calculating drug dosage

Going Organic : insights for dreaming big

Tasting organic long beans from the organic farm     Admiring water sprinklers at organic farm

The world of organic can be over-whelming: procedures, certification, testing. Not an easy-access option for small farmers keen to try new farming techniques.

That’s why Vets without Borders and FoA organised an introductory 3-day training for farmers in Dounien village to show them the ropes, explain what is meant by organic and ‘good agricultural practices’ (GAP) and experiment with making their own compost.

The visit to Ban Thaxang, a local organic farm set up 3 years ago and run by 20 households, showed what all this can look like in practice, and gave participants a real vision for dreaming big.

Trainer Ms Phimmasone said “The participants already have animals and some land, but they didn’t know how to make organic compost and use natural pest control. Now they have seen how others are doing it, it will help them to try it themselves”.

Co-trainer Mr Sayvisen added “The next step will be to actually try these new approaches in their own farms. We don’t want to just stop at training, we will help them prepare for new and growing markets”.

For lunch the workshop group tasted samples of fresh water spinach from Ban Thaxang and everyone got to take some vegetables home.

Over the new few weeks, group members will volunteer to work as model farmers to try out these new techniques in their backyards.

PAHWs for Applause: Vaccination Campaign off to Successful Start

Laos is on the brink of rainy season. A bountiful rainy season is crucial for agricultural production however; it also creates environmental conditions that promote bacterial growth. This can put farm animals at risk for diseases like Hemorrhagic Septicemia [1]. Vaccination is the best way to protect cattle and prevent death from this disease. That’s why our team from Vets without Borders and NUOL is training Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) on cattle vaccination. This training will provide PAHWs with the knowledge they need to educate local farmers on the benefits of cattle vaccination and give them the skills to administer the vaccines independently.

PAHWs watch attentively as Vet. Margot demonstrates how to properly fill a syringe with vaccine.
Margot uses a stethoscope to listen to the breathing of a distressed calf.

After last week’s theory-based training, PAHWs mobilized for the first day of practical training on the Faculty of Agriculture (FoA) Cattle Farm. After a quick review of the proper technique and a demonstration by Vet. Margot, the PAHWs were eager to give cattle vaccination a shot (literally!)

PAHWs use a digital thermometer to check the body temperature of a calf.

It was chaotic in the cattle pen at first, but our PAHWs were unfazed! With the guidance of Prof. Chantha and Vet. Margot, the PAHWs assembled into teams and worked together to restrain the cattle. One by one, the PAHWs filled their syringes with vaccine, handled the cattle and administered the injection.

This was my first time witnessing cattle vaccination. It was so exciting! I watched each PAHW closely and keenly took down notes to make sure every PAHW got a chance to show us their skills. As I checked their names off my list, they smiled proudly, happy to have successfully completed each task.

After only a couple of hours, the PAHWs had already vaccinated 36 heads of cattle!

This is a cattle pen in Palai Village. Notice how different it is from the pen we worked with at the Faculty of Agriculture Cattle Farm.
PAHWs take turns filling syringes with vaccine for Hemorrhagic Septicemia.

With the first day of practice under their belts, the PAHWs were ready to conquer day two of practical training. This time we assembled in Palai Village to see how PAHWs would perform on a real farm.

PAHWs working together to handle and vaccinate cattle in Palai.

Every farm we visited was different and it was impressive to see how quickly the PAHWs could adapt their skills based on the environment they had to work with. Handling the cattle was more difficult without the structural facilities of the FoA Cattle Farm but our group of talented PAHWs managed to overcome the obstacles and vaccinate another 29 heads of cattle.

This brings our grand total of vaccinated cattle to 65!

It was a two-day vaccination sensation! Now our trained PAHWs are ready to continue the Hemorrhagic Septicemia vaccination campaign in their own villages.

PAHWs write down the name of each farm they visit and the number of cattle they vaccinate. This helps them keep track of the village's protection against disease.




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[1] Merck (2012). Transmission, epidemiology, and Pathogenesis. Overview of Hemorrhagic Septcemia. Retrieved on May 16, 2013 from /overview_of_ hemorrhagic_septicemia.html


Gearing up for the 2nd rabies campaign

Life may seem simple in a village, but the yearly calendar is a considered sequence of activities related to farming, schooling, festivals and other types of work. It is important to make sure that activities run through the VEVEP project tie in carefully with communities’ occupations and priorities.

This year we decided to hold the rabies campaign a little later after World Rabies Day.  We are delighted to hear that the District Agriculture and Forestry Office is also including rabies vaccination as part of their National Vaccination Day to be held in mid November.

Our new Veterinarian and Livelihoods Officer, Dr Fabienne Uehlinger, is working closely with the team at Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos, to prepare for the campaign. Planning involves steps like writing to all village chiefs about the campaign, mobilising Primary Animal Health workers (PAHWs) to provide estimated dog counts for each village, sourcing adequate doses of vaccine, and holding refresher trainings with all participating members to review procedures and feel comfortable before the event.

A successful clinic involves coordinated efforts between all team members to vaccinate the dogs, provide vaccination certificates, ask dog owners to complete a simple knowledge survey, and provide important information to all dog owners about bite prevention and treatment and rabies prevention.  The campaign will start on 24th November – and we hope to reach even more dogs than last year!

(Image from WHO, WSPA, World Rabies Day poster in Lao)



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.

Hands on in the farm

Today saw a culmination of intensive planning as the training for volunteer Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs) is finalised. During consultations and village visits in 2009, it became clear that there is a high demand amongst local farmers for greater veterinary support. With her wealth of experience, volunteer vet Dr Anne Drew and I have therefore been working with a fantastic team from the National University of Laos (NUOL) to put together a programme that will cover the necessary vet basics and provide PAHWs with new skills and knowledge to apply in their local setting.
We practised some training techniques today as students from the Faculty of Agriculture observed Anne Drew and faculty member Mr Sisavath demonstrate cattle handling and management skills.
NUOL has been working hard over the last few weeks to introduce the project to local communities and has recruited a motivated team of 33 volunteers to take on the role of Primary Animal Health Workers in their villages. Next week we will carry out a baseline survey in the villages which will put us in good stead to ensure our training covers priority animal health issues in the area.

– Sonia Fevre