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Australian Veterinary student gains field experience in Laos

By Chelsea Lim, 5th year BVSc student, University of Sydney

I jumped at the chance when Professor Windsor offered final year veterinary students the opportunity of participating in vaccination campaigns in Luang Prabang as part of our Rural Public Practice rotation. I felt that it would be a great opportunity to get some field experience and understand how a disease control program is implemented in a developing country.

During my placement, I assisted in a 10-day vaccination campaign and field trip to villages in the Vieng Kham district, which is a hotspot for recurrent foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks in northern Laos. This campaign was organized as part of the FMD National Control Program, which is an important part of the regional OIE led South-East Asia and China FMD campaign (SEACFMD) 2020 – a multi-national project aiming for FMD eradication by the year 2020.

Upon arrival in the village, the team facilitated group farmer meetings to increase public awareness and knowledge amongst smallholder farmers on priority animal diseases, the importance of biosecurity for proper disease control and good animal husbandry. Our vaccination team comprised of Livestock Development Project and district staff.  Fieldwork involved vaccinating, ear tagging and registration of cattle and buffalo. Cattle and buffalo were also vaccinated for haemorrhagic septicemia (HS) – a rampant problem for Lao farmers as this disease causes high herd mortality. In addition, we also vaccinated the village dogs for rabies.

Overall the ‘hands-on’ experience working with veterinary extension staff and farmers allowed me to gain an insight into a real-life disease eradication program and implementation, and thus be able to appreciate its impact on the community.

Having grown up in a developed country, it was certainly a challenge working in rural conditions; many villages lacked electricity and running water – things we take for granted at home!  I couldn’t help admire the farmers for their resourcefulness and energy.

From a traveller’s perspective, I found Luang Prabang to be a truly special place with countless sights and experiences to offer – scenic walks along the Mekong and Nam Khan riverfront, as well as lively morning and night markets selling everything from street food to hand-woven fabrics, fresh produce and live animals. With such a laid-back, tranquil atmosphere, Luang Prabang provides an opportunity tobuffalo FMD_HS vax relieve one’s stresses from back home. While there were many eye-opening moments, one particularly unforgettable experience was taking part in the ‘Tak Bat’ or Morning Alms. This is a daily ceremony where Buddhist monks emerge from their respective temples and walk along the streets carrying bamboo baskets for locals or tourists to donate food in (most commonly sticky rice) as offerings. This magical experience made getting up at 4.30am in the freezing cold very worthwhile!

Looking back on my month in Luang Prabang it was certainly an extraordinary, even life-changing experience and as there remains so much more to explore and appreciate – I would definitely seize the opportunity to visit here again!

DLF staff vaccinate a buffalo (Photo: C. Lim)

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