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Going with the flow in Laos – vet student’s experiences in the field

By Audrey Yu and Curtis Goding, BVSc students
Edited by Peter Windsor and Isabel MacPhillamy

Audrey and Curtis are final year Bachelor of Veterinary Science students from the University of Sydney, who travelled to Laos in April-May 2018 to conduct professional practice rotations in the work of the ongoing ACIAR-funded research projects led by the MLR team. For four weeks, they were based in Luang Prabang, working closely with both our Lao project collaborators in the Department of Livestock and Fisheries servicing northern provincial rural communities, plus the local SK Vet Clinic that provides a companion animal veterinary service to the mainly urban local communities. Below are their reflections on the month.

Two of the MLR projects currently in place in Laos are ‘Enhancing transboundary livestock disease risk management in Lao PDR’ (AH/2012/067) and ‘Development of a biosecure market-driven beef production system in Lao PDR’ (AH/2012/068). Both began in 2015 to assist development of livestock health and production in Laos. Livestock production is one of the most important economic sectors in Laos and with fisheries provides up to 50% of the household annual cash income of smallholder rural families. Smallholder farmers are still often considered as livestock ‘keepers’ rather than ‘producers’. These rural communities have low-level large ruminant husbandry knowledge and skills, and low awareness of the impacts of livestock diseases and control options. Through appropriate knowledge-based interventions, improvements in large ruminant production may generate a shift in smallholder farming in Laos from a subsistence-level to a more productive and profitable pathway, increasingly acknowledged as an important strategy in assisting rural poverty alleviation.

During our first week we participated in field work for these projects and were involved in a vaccination program in two villages in Xayabouli province, about a two hour drive south west of Luang Prabang. Cattle were first weighed, then vaccinated against Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (HS), two of the most important diseases in the region affecting large ruminants, with annual mortality rates of up to 10%. Faecal samples were also collected from selected animals for faecal egg counts, as part of work being conducted with medicated fenbendazole or urea blocks for internal helminth parasite control and improved utilisation of low quality roughage, respectively. The vaccination and sampling process, while sometimes slow, was a lesson in ingenuity and teamwork, particularly considering the very basic facilities available in Laos. A true team effort was involved in catching, leading and restraining cattle, record-keeping and preparing and giving vaccinations.

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Project signage outside a village in Xayabouli Provinces and a farmer bringing how how to be vaccinated against FMD and HS (Photo: Audrey Yu)

Each morning a wooden platform and underlying load bars for weighing cattle was either fitted to a simple crush if available, or could be carried to another property and placed on flat ground beside a tree. Alternatively, animals could also be restrained with a bamboo or log ‘bleeding pole’, with leverage applied to an attached rope to restrain the animal’s head between the pole and tree, creating a ‘head bail‘. Although the facilities are very basic, they functioned well enough with a clear system in place enabling up to 150 animals to be vaccinated each day. The team has a goal of achieving 150-200 animals daily in the future. In villages where a river crossing or a hand tractor ‘tuk-tuk‘ ride was involved in reaching them, and a weighing scale couldn’t be transported, calves were measured around the chest using a measuring tape. This reading was then compared to a chart to extrapolate the weight of the animal, derived from a substantial amount of weight and girth data derived in a previous project by the MLR team.

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Audrey vaccinating a cow against FMD and HS and cattle in a holding yard made out of bamboo (Photo: Audrey Yu)

audrey 5Farmers with one of their cows restrained in a crush on the portable wooden platform and load bars for weighing the cattle (Photo: Audrey Yu)

From bamboo yards to homes of wood and straw crafted by hand, it was incredible to see what the Laotians are capable of, using the limited resources available to them. One farmer needed to transport a bottle of vaccine home, and in order to keep it cool in the 35 degree tropical heat, he took out his knife, chopped a piece of bamboo that was growing beside him and hollowed out the middle section to create a mini-esky. On day 3, we found that were the only English-speakers in the team; safe to say we quickly learned the art of going with the flow. With daily home-cooked lunch feasts, we were treated to the full warmth of Laotian rural community hospitality. Many mysterious foods were tried and conquered, along with some helpful advice to “always smile when eating” – sure enough each time we looked up with a mouthful of food, we found eager eyes anticipating our reactions.

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From top left: the vaccination team sharing lunch with project farmers, A farmer preparing lunch from the fish caught fresh from her property, local breed cattle, transportation of the molasses blocks donated by the Australian 4 Season Company Pty Ltd 

Back in Luang Prabang, we entered data from recent KAP (knowledge, attitude and practice) surveys, conducted in March-April in the four provinces of Xieng Khoung, Luang Prabang, Xayabouli and Savannakhet. These document the level of large ruminant production (cattle and buffalo) in 15-20 households per village, with 9 and 32 villages involved for projects 067 and 068 respectively. The surveys aim to identify the current level of KAPs of smallholder farmers on biosecurity, disease risk management and large ruminant health and production. This data enables researchers to determine how best to implement sustainable interventions, such as a village-level biosecurity program, in a country where biosecurity rarely occurs. The project is also looking into incentives for more sustainable vaccination against FMD and HS in non-project villages with an aim that informed farmers will ultimately take responsibility for preventative health of their valuable livestock to protect their livelihoods.

While we were in the villages, we also saw many companion animals that potentially had not received any health care in their lives. It has been a privilege for us to spend our afternoons helping at the SK Veterinary Clinic, currently the only one of its kind in Luang Prabang and surrounding northern provinces (as most vet practices in Laos are located in Vientiane Capital). The clinic offers many services, from vaccinations to desexing and routine health care, and ultimately serves as a tool in educating the wider community about companion animal health and preventative disease management. These basic concepts are applicable in all species and may assist community understanding of the current interventions in farming villages. As perceptions in Luang Prabang begin to change regarding companion animal medicine and welfare, we hope to be able to integrate and build on this knowledge in the villages also.

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Curtis assisting Phivahn to place a venous catheter in a puppy needing intravenous fluid therapy and Audrey with a litter of puppies which have presented for their C3 and rabies vaccinations at the SK Vet Clinic (Photo: Audrey Yu and Curtis Goding)

We’d like to conclude with a big thank you to the wonderful Lao team, both in the field and the clinic, who welcomed and took care of us during our time in the beautiful country that is Laos.


2018 SEACFMD EpiNet Meeting, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

By Isabel MacPhillamy and Peter Windsor

Australian MLR team members, Isabel MacPhillamy and Peter Windsor attended the 2018 South East Asia and China Foot and Mouth Disease (SEACFMD) Epidemiology Network (EpiNet) meeting recently held from April 5 through 6 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The meeting gave member and observer countries and collaborating agencies (OIE, FAO, USYD, NZ MAF etc) the opportunity to share current information on the status of FMD in the region, learn of findings from regional FMD Epidemiological research, identify knowledge gaps on FMD control, and increase awareness of both the current regional initiatives and future approaches and action plans to improve FMD surveillance and management. The meeting also involved a showcase of Indonesia’s current surveillance system iSIKHNAS and an update on the new World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) portal ‘WAHIS Plus’.

Some of the current issues highlighted in the meeting included the challenges related to the official and unofficial movements of livestock throughout Southeast and Eastern Asia. As the demand for red meat in China has rapidly increased, so has the number of large ruminants (& meat products) entering the country. These animals are transported from as far as Bangladesh, increasing the risk of ‘exotic’ FMD strains to enter the region, as occurred in January 2017 with the Asia 1 strain re-entering Myanmar.

The host country for this meeting, Indonesia, has been officially recognised by the OIE as FMD-free since 1990 following an Australian supported eradication program in the 1970-80’s. In recent years they have undertaken a benefit-cost analyses of maintaining their FMD free status. As Indonesia is still primarily a beef importer rather than a beef exporter, a re-incursion of FMD would not necessarily have the major financial impacts that a loss of livestock trading ability would have in a country such as Australia (ABARE estimates at up to AU$50billion). However, as cattle are the second most important livestock sector and the Government of Indonesia is aiming for the country to have a self-sufficient cattle industry by 2025, if FMD was to enter their country, it may have an estimated cost to the national economy of US$761.3million and compromise plans for eventual beef self-sufficiency.

In the meeting, the member country progress reports presented reinforced the need to improve the levels of serotyping of FMD outbreaks. In 2017, 51.8% of outbreaks were untyped. Serotyping (& genotyping) is important for the ongoing control of FMD by improving understanding of the epidemiology of FMD transmission and ensuring that countries are using the appropriate FMD-strain vaccines (so-called ‘vaccine matching’).  Such surveillance also enables monitoring for the inevitable incursions of exotic and emerging FMD strains, which if they were to become endemic, would require updating current FMD vaccination protocols. Illegal animal movements and lack of real-time epidemiological data were also highlighted as current constraints for member countries. Peter presented an invited update of the USYD MLR/Lao DLF/Cambodian GDAHP research projects (ACIAR funded) on FMD epidemiology and control. The focus of this work is the improvement of applied biosecurity practices, particularly for smallholder farmers in Cambodia and Laos, that aims to both help reduce the incidence of FMD and improved rural livelihoods through enhanced livestock productivity.

The new WAHIS Plus ( portal for country delegates will be replacing the original WAHIS system that was developed over a decade ago. The new system is designed to more intuitive and will evolve with technology to ensure it continues to be user-friendly. The new system will incorporate translation tools, mobile applications, as well as the ability to link up with countries surveillance system programs with the expected rollout starting in May 2019.There are a number of current real-time surveillance and reporting systems emerging in the region, include the iSIKHNAS program in Indonesia which currently covers over 94% of the districts within the country (, as well as a number of systems introduced in Thailand such as the e-smart surveillance system and the DLD 4.0 mobile application and Integrated real-time information system (IRIS) pilot programs in Laos and Myanmar.

Yogyakarta is home to a number of national landmarks such as the Mount Merapi volcano, and the famous Borobudur and Prambanan Temples. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much free time to explore these sites but did get to visit the Prambanan Temple for dinner on the first night of the meeting. This is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and dates back to the 9th Century. It was restored in the 1990s and the compound is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

The MLR team looks forward to their continued contribution to the SEACFMD campaign.

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Photo: Meeting delegates after dinner at Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta. (Photo: Onsiri Benjavejbhaisan)

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Photo: Australian Veterinarians working in FMD control in Asia attending this meeting, from left: Peter Windsor, Caitlin Holley, Christopher John Brackman and Isabel MacPhillamy (Photo: Peter Windsor)

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Photo: Meeting delegates for the 2018 SEACMFD EpiNet Meeting and East Asia Contact Persons Meeting (Photo: Onsiri Benjavejbhaisan)

City University of Hong Kong helps to progress bovine reproductive disease knowledge in smallholder farms in Laos and Cambodia

Author: Luisa Olmo; Edited by Dr. Susan Pfeiffer, City University

HK CityU

The College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) hosted University of Sydney PhD student Luisa Olmo for two weeks and assisted in serological analysis of over 1000 cattle and buffalo sera samples from Laos and Cambodia at CityU’s   Veterinary Diagnostic               Laboratory.

Luisa has been working with the University of Sydney’s Mekong Livestock Research team for three years on projects collaborating with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, Laos, and the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production, Cambodia, and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Starting as an honours student, she spent one month in Cambodia and assessed interventions to improve the reproductive efficiency of the country’s bovines through knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) surveys conducted on smallholder farmers. This identified the use of native cattle, bull selection, target feeding, vaccinating for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and forage growing as evidence based interventions to enhance reproductive efficiency. Her current PhD extends the research scope to include neighbouring Laos and their larger populations of buffalo, which are less fertile than cattle in these environments. Luisa lived in Laos for 9 months, learning Lao language, interviewing farmers in southern Laos, working with government staff to deliver knowledge building workshops, and navigating though serum banks.

A large resource of cattle and buffalo serum already exists in Laos and Cambodia from previous Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) monitoring projects. Locating and organising these samples has led to in-country agreements to allocate a subset of serum to investigate pathogens with the potential to cause reproductive loss that have not been previously screened for in Laos and Cambodia. The investigation of these diseases is important because reproductive efficiency is currently constrained with the native Laotian cattle and water buffalo having average intercalving intervals of 14 to 16 months and 19 to 26 months, respectively, and the Cambodian Haryana native cross of 21 months. With the Lao population and its beef consumption projected to increase rapidly in the coming decades, baseline data and investigations are needed to prevent disease transmission and enhance smallholder production efficiency.

The testing of these pathogens would not be currently feasible in Laos and Cambodia where research resources are still being developed and priority is given to FMD and nutritional investigations. This analysis has proceeded thanks to the collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at the City University of Hong Kong. With the guidance of Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Lloyd Wahl and the supervision of Professor Michael Reichel, Luisa will analyse 1020 samples and present the findings at the 30th World Buiatrics Conference later this year in Sapporo, Japan.

To find out more about our collaborating partner CityU’s vet school check out their facebook page @HKVetSchool, and if you are in HK, Luisa is giving a short seminar on the 12th April, 2018, check out the flyer here.

Perspectives of the ACIAR-funded research projects in Northern Lao PDR

Authors: Bethanie Clark, Brianne Pepper, Amanda Bouassi
Edited by Prof Peter Windsor

Bethanie, Brianne and Amanda are fourth year Animal and Veterinary Bioscience students from the University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science. They were awarded New Colombo Plan Scholarships to travel to Laos in February 2018 and work in the ACIAR funded projects ‘Development of a biosecure market-driven beef production system’ (ACIAR AH/2012/068) and ‘Enhancing transboundary livestock disease risk management in Lao PDR’ (ACIAR/2012/067) in northern Laos. Their visit was aligned with their final year Honours Projects, requiring them to be based in Luang Prabang for 4 weeks.

Prior to their trip, they each conducted preliminary research on the topics they had chosen; Amanda on nutrition and the use of urea molasses blocks; Brianne on current biosecurity and animal disease status, prevention and treatment practices of smallholder farmers; and Bethanie on the effects of Neospora caninum and Leptospira interrogans on reproductive performance in buffalo. This work provided insights into the status of the agricultural sector in the country although did not prepare them for the actual experiences obtained in the villages and the  current farming practices utilised in Laos. They visited villages close to Luang Prabang (LPB) for two days, helped take faecal samples from calves and vaccinating recently purchased cattle against Foot and Mouth Disease. It was amazing to see how simple farming practices were and how improvising with the limited local resources enabled progress, including the use of bamboo to form a bleeding pole, fencing and a crush. From conducting both field and office work, the students s experienced the various challenges of working in a developing country.

Photo Left: University of Sydney Honours Student, Brianne Pepper administering a Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine to a young cow against a “bleeding pole” (Photo: Amanda Bouassi). Photo Right: Project team photo at the end of the first day out in the field vaccinating cattle and completing calf faecal sampling in villages near Luang Prabang.

Highlights included visiting the Laos Buffalo Dairy near LPB, A trip to Xayaburi province, and participating in the Projects Midterm Review Meeting. The Laos Buffalo Dairy was recently established by Suzie Martin, an Australian who wanted to improve the future livelihoods of buffalo farmers through participation in her business. The production system is unique as it involves ‘renting’ buffalo from local villages during late pregnancy and lactation and then returning them to the farmers when lactation ceased and they are pregnant again. The buffalo milk is utilised to make cheeses, yoghurt and ice-cream products that are sold locally to customers and also to local hotels and restaurants. Students from local universities may work at this farm and are taught basic biosecurity practices and how to work in a western kitchen. These skills are crucial for Lao PDR as biosecurity is rarely practiced in this country due to the very limited knowledge of farmers and advisors.

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Photo: (From left to right) Bethanie Clark, Brianne Pepper and Amanda Bouassi, honours students from Sydney University at Laos Buffalo Dairy, Luang Prabang (Photo: Luisa Olmo).

The students also travelled to Xayaburi province for two days for the recently initiated  Business Partnership Platform(BPP) DFAT-funded project on ‘Urea molasses blocks to improve large ruminant productivity and profitability for smallholder farmers in Lao PDR’. They visited one of the project farms and witnessed the positive interaction between the project staff and the farmers, highlighting the importance of having good relationships with farmers when conducting field Livestock research in Laos. Amanda was able to observe the implementation of the urea molasses blocks trial, noting that the blocks were offered to small groups of cattle (eg three cattle per block and one buffalo per block) as previous research identified that changes in growth rate were less obvious when too many animals has access to a block. The students were fortunate to attend the annual elephant festival in Xayaburi. At the festival, locals and tourists celebrated the national animal of Laos, the elephant and this festival gave the students an incredible insight into the culture and traditions of the local people, with about 70 elephants in attendance, traditional Laotian music, food and a martial arts performance by the local youth of Xayaburi.

Fig 6 Photo: An elephant and rider at the elephant festival in Xayaburi (Photo: Bethanie Clark).

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Photoo: Elephants and Laotian youth performing at the elephant festival in Xayaburi (Photo: Bethanie Clark).

In their third week in Laos, the students attended the Projects Midterm Review Meeting in Luang Prabang, where the previous achievements of the project and future initiatives were discussed. This meeting enabled the students to see the bigger picture of the considerable work that they were contributing to during their month in Laos. During dinner with the meeting attendees from Australia and Laos, the students learned of the value of applied research in developing countries, how travelling can be part of a career, and the impacts that ACIAR-funded research has made around the world.

Fig 5Photo:  Asiatic swamp buffalo licking urea molasses block on the first day of the urea molasses block trial (Photo: Brianne Pepper).

In the final week Bethanie and Amanda returned to the Buffalo Dairy and also visited Pik Yai and Khokman villages in Luang Prabang province, with the local Laos team, collecting blood samples from buffalo and completing a risk factor surveys with the farmers. The blood samples will be tested for antibodies to Neospora caninum, Leptospira interrogans and bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD pestivirus) as all 3 potential pathogens have recently been identified in buffalo in Laos (this work is for Bethanie’s Hons project).

Fig 8Photo: Blood samples being collected from buffalo at the Buffalo Dairy (Photo: Bethanie Clark).

Progressing research for control of Toxocara mortality in calves in Laos, January 2018

Ms Geri Pearson, DVM final year student, edited by Prof Em Peter Windsor

An important part of the current MLR research projects in Laos includes educating farmers on internal parasites causing mortalities in calves, particularly Toxocara vitulorum. This roundworm species is found in the small intestines of bovines where the adult worms lay eggs excreted in the faeces. Ingestion of the hatched larvae from the environment allows migration of the larvae throughout the respiratory tract, liver, kidneys and other organs and finally the small intestines. Lactogenic transmission (via milk) to calves occurs with larvae remaining in the small intestine into maturity. Migrating larvae can cause serious damage to organs of adult cattle resulting in ill-thrift, weight loss and poor production however the biggest losses occur in infected calves with high mortality rates common. The hot and humid conditions of South East Asia are highly suitable to infections with Toxocara vitulorum and the parasite is endemic in Lao cattle and buffalo, causing serious economic problems for farmers.


Calves often suffer significantly from internal parasites, causing ill thrift and a failure to grow. These calves will benefit from the use of the MMBs (Photo: Geri Pearson)

Due to the typical lack of cattle handling facilities found on Laos farms it is very difficult for farmers to administer parasite control. During the February 2016 visit, the Australian company 4 Season Company Pty Ltd donated 400 fenbendazole medicated molasses blocks (MMBs) for trials in Laos, providing an easy route of administration for anthelmintic control and nutritional supplementation to improve herd body condition scores. Preliminary trials on the use of these MMBs conducted by University of Sydney AVBSc student Tereza Nemanic showed very positive results during research on these blocks and  larger trials have recently commenced  with five farmers in Luang Prabang province.

Block trial team Luang Prabang

Final year USyd DVM student Geri Pearson (Left) with project farmer (second from left) and block trial team members (Photo: Geri Pearson)

A recent follow up trip was conducted in January 2018 to collect faecal samples from calves and assess body condition to determine the efficacy of these MMBs. Faecal egg counts (FEC) of these samples will be conducted at the Lao Department of Livestock and Fisheries laboratory in Luang Prabang. Faecal collections will continue into February to allow assessments of FEC at 1, 14, 28 and 56 day intervals and help determine the potential efficacy of this approach if applied a larger scale. This research work has received a boost recently with support from DFAT through a successful application by 4 Seasons & the MLR team for a Business Partnership Platform (AUBPP) grant examining the potential for multiple applications of molasses blocks in Laos and potentially the broader Mekong and southeast Asian region.

Cows consuming molasses blocks Laos

Cows enjoying the MMBs from the trial. Project farmers so far have expressed interest in the continued use of the MMBs (Photo: Sonevilay Nampanya)

Correspondence with farmers during the recent visits indicate they are very pleased with the results as the health and body condition score of their herds continues to improve. Further information on this and other MLR projects aimed  at improving large ruminant efficacy and regional food security can be found on the Mekong Livestock Research Blog:

Additional research on parasitic control has also recently been conducted by Dr Sonevilay Nampanya and PhD students Ms Luisa Olmo and Ms Nichola Calvani who all recently presented at the 26th International Conference of the World Association for the Advancement of Veterinary Parasitology (WAAVP) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in September 2017.

Perseverance and Patience on the MAD journey

Isabel MacPhillamy

The MLR team has recently begun the transition from paper-based surveys to the use of mobile acquired data (MAD) surveys using the e-platform CommCare. This blog highlights recent experiences from this journey in Cambodia.


Figure 1. Collecting field data in Cambodia is often laborious as it frequently occurs during times of multiple activities, such as weighing & vaccinating cattle involved in the project.

As the new project officer for the MLR team, an important task was to begin the transition of our work to the use of the more efficient data entry and management platform CommCare. The team has been investigating this transition and new technologies for the last year or so, with one of our PhD students, Nichola Calvani, being able to attend a CommCare workshop earlier in the year. In August at the Crawford Fund Conference in Canberra, the role and responsibilities we have as researchers when using this data collected from smallholders, and how we can start to ‘give back’ to the farmers in real time, was emphasised. In the past in some of our project activities it has taken months for data sets to be entered into the computer and analysed, often due to the multiple commitments of many of our in-country staff collaborators. We hope that the shift to CommCare will greatly decrease the time any of us need to spend in entering and cleaning data, allowing us to spend more time on other important activities, such as extension advice on improving health & productivity!

Peter Windsor and I first trialled the platform in August at an OIE SEACFMD regional coordinators meeting in Pakse in southern Laos. We were able to efficiently conduct a Biosecurity Practices survey with the attendees, with most able to complete the survey on a hand-held tablet during coffee and lunch breaks. The system was considered very user friendly by all involved and allowed us to promptly conduct an analysis of the data.

We then hoped to implement the new technology in our longitudinal cattle survey in Cambodia. This is a large and extensive survey involving 16 locations and up to 2000 cattle and buffalo. The team was preparing for the fourth data collection so we were hoping to incorporate this data into the CommCare app in the expectation that we could begin to give real time feedback to farmers. Letting farmers know whether their cattle are gaining or losing weight since the last collection period is likely to be highly motivational. After a few team discussions and some ad-hoc research, we decided to contract the app developer, the Australian company AgImpact. Their team did a fantastic job developing the app and were always available on the other end of Skype message if anything was needed. I headed over to Cambodia in October for four weeks of training, fine-tuning and deploying the app. Our Cambodian team collaborators quickly saw the advantages of the technology and enthusiastically adopted MAD because of the time saving benefits.

Day One of deployment highlighted how important it is to involve whoever is collecting the data with the development of your CommCare app. Unfortunately for our team, due to timing issues, this wasn’t possible and there were moments in those initial deployment days were I had to ‘let go’ of how I thought things should happen and let the team work out how to make the app work best for them. The team face numerous challenges when weighing and vaccinating the cattle due to the limited facilities, with some farmers still hesitant to either vaccinate or weigh their pregnant cattle. Also, setting up the temporary cattle crush at either one or two locations per village in the tropical heat is a challenge. By the end of the first week the team seemed to be incorporating the app in a way that worked well for them and the challenges they faced. They had also expressed interest in learning more about the app development so that they could start to incorporate this new technology into their other roles outside the project.


Figure 2. Project team Member Mr Siek Sophary showing the farmers in Ampil Chroum Village in Siem Reap province, the new tablet and explaining the benefits of using this over the traditional paper methods (Photo: Isabel MacPhillamy)


Figure 3. Team members assembling the cattle crush in Salong Village (Photo Isabel MacPhillamy)

During the four weeks I spent in Cambodia in October-November, I was fortunate to experience the three day ‘Bon Om Touk’ or water festival. This is festival celebrates the end of the rainy season and reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River into and from the mighty Mekong River in Phnom Penh. Boat racing is a feature and I caught the last day of the boat racing and was amazed at the huge numbers of people crowding along the river bank! I also got to enjoy a little side trip to the Angkor Wat temples one afternoon after the vaccination activities in Siem Reap. The experience was just as magical as it was 10 years ago when I first visited Cambodia I also visited the land mine museum, a sobering reminder of the challenges that many of our project farmers (and colleagues) experienced in their lifetimes during the devastation of the Pol Pot era. One colleague told me stories of the manual labour he was expected to do as an eight year old, plus the death of family members due to starvation. The horrors that the peaceful Cambodian people had to endure in the 5 year rule of the Khmer Rouge is unfathomable and a reminder of how privileged many of us from western societies have been spared from the struggles of severe civil unrest.


Figure 4. The crowds watching the boat racing on the Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh (Photo: Isabel MacPhillamy)

MLR team present recent FMD research at the 2017 GFRA Conference in Korea

Authors: Peter Windsor & Jim Young


The Mekong Research Livestock Team from The University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science presented 4 papers on FMD in Laos, Cambodia & beyond, at the 2017 GFRA (Global Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Alliance) Scientific Meeting held on the 25-27th of October in Incheon near Seoul, Korea.


Photo: From left: Prof Peter Windsor, Jim Young, Corissa Miller and Dr Sonevilay Nampanya.

The team contributed 2 papers to the session on ‘FMD viral ecology & epidemiology’. Firstly, Corissa Miller presented work from her MVPHMgt research project in a paper entitled ‘Risk Factors for endemic and emerging FMD viruses on smallholder farms in Lao PDR’ where she identified that quarantine for 2 weeks of animals entering the village was protective of infection and that farmers using communal grazing had 5.5 times the odds of having FMD in the animals. This was followed by a presentation from the recently completed PhD of Jim Young entitled ‘Investigation of smallholder farmer biosecurity and implications for sustainable FMD control in Cambodia.’ Jim identified the lack of basic biosecurity practices in Cambodian villages from a baseline study of KAP (knowledge, attitudes & practices) of smallholder farmers (n=240) and that cattle incomes were related to region, numbers of calves born, forage area, vaccination and numbers of cattle purchased.


Photo: Corissa Miller presenting her research findings on Day 1.

In the next session on socioeconomics of FMD in endemic and non-endemic settings, Sonevilay Nampanya presented a paper on the ‘Socioeconomic impact of the FMD vaccination project implemented in northern and central Lao PDR’. This study examined the changes in livelihoods & income from livestock of smallholders in several provinces in a potential FMD-free zone between 2012 and 2016, when 1.6m doses of vaccine were provided by the Australian STANDZ (Stop Transboundary Animal Disease & Zoonoses) program & the Japanese Trust Fund to the Lao Department of Livestock & Fisheries to administer strategically. Although it was found that only 62% of the susceptible bovine population was vaccinated and no cases of FMD were reported after 2013, this study showed the dramatic differences in mean annual household incomes between regions (>$5000 versus ~$1200), that FMD vaccination was generally well regarded by farmers, and the project may have provided a satisfactory level of protection to suppress the disease from being recognised in the targeted zone. This was followed by Peter Windsor presenting a paper entitled ‘Was biosecurity awareness more important than vaccination of pigs for FMD control in the Philippines?’ that promoted the importance of improving biosecurity practices to ensure FMD control interventions are sustainable. This included recent findings on ways to improve KAP of smallholders in Lao & Cambodian villages & data collected recently from SEACFMD (Southeast Asian & China FMD program) coordinators and OIE (World Animal Health Organisation) delegates on their current biosecurity programs at the householder, village, commercial and national levels. It was concluded that biosecurity practices in FMD endemic countries is generally poor and that public awareness messages on FMD need to be revised & renewed.


There were over 200 attendees at this conference from many parts of the world and it was particularly pleasing to see work conducted in endemic countries in Africa, Asia and the middle east where the FMD virus populations are emerging as increasingly dynamic. It appears that the rapidly changing trading patterns of animals and their products has increased the complexity of managing the disease, particularly because of the challenge of ‘vaccine matching’ to the newly emerging serogroups and their topotypes in the endemic countries. The final session on research gaps was of particular interest where the frustrations of current vaccine efficacy & understanding of virus movement were discussed amongst the many issues raised in the presentations during this conference including the themes introduced by the MLR on biosecurity & the importance of public awareness programs involving all stakeholders in the ruminant & porcine value chains in FMD endemic countries. The MLR team greatly enjoyed this very focused program that shared the latest research on this most enigmatically important threat to global food security.

Presentations from the conference will become available shortly at the GFRA website:


Photo: The GFRA Organizing Committee (including Corissa, far left) being acknowledged at the close of the very successful meeting.