Gianluca Salmi BVSc(V)
Like many students before me, the opportunity to be involved in the final year public practice programs with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) was too good to pass up. One other student and myself spent time in both Bangkok at the Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) and northern Lao PDR. The plan had been to spend time in the Bangkok office, organising the upcoming foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccination campaign in Laos before heading over to be directly involved in the fieldwork. In Bangkok, we were introduced to the role the OIE plays in the area and the substantial “behind the scenes” mechanics of these large campaigns. Furthermore, we gained experience in using mapping software vital to the applied epidemiology – an integral tool when planning future efforts and assessing the success of those carried out already.
We then travelled to northern Laos and met the team in Luang Prabang. Due to shipping issues involving the ear tags, our journey out into the field had to be delayed. This give me the opportunity to research further into veterinary public health in the area. My searching brought me to control programs of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, a viral-borne disease of major economic concern in the Mekong area. Pigs are vitally important in the area, with 70% of the regions pigs raised in small-scale village settings and in poorer areas of northern Laos pigs can provide over 50% of total household income. Biosecurity measures are often lacking and vaccination complicated by issues such as cost, cold chain, access and limited resources for the veterinary services. Armed with this knowledge, I was excited at the prospect of moving out into the field to see things first-hand around Vang Vieng.
While every village did have pigs roaming freely, our team was focused on FMD and Haemorrhagic Septicaemia vaccinations in cattle and buffalo. It was eye-opening to see how interested a whole village could become with our arrival, with word spreading fast and animals being brought together. Equipment was limited to a simple pole crush, ropes and chains. The first step was finding a sturdy tree to set up the crush and then the animals were roped and restrained for safe vaccination and ear tagging identification. Both OIE staff and farmers worked together, and some villages appeared more organised than others. The deciding factor seemed to be how willing to help their neighbours they were!
In terms of practical experience it was important to see how with a bit of ingenuity, a lot can be achieved with little equipment. As a cultural experience, it was heart warming to be welcomed into villages, be invited to eat a traditional meal with rural community leaders clearly appreciating the support for better animal health. As a professional experience, I still harbor an interest in PRRS and have a desire to one day explore the pathway into veterinary public health in the future. However perhaps most importantly, as a life experience, my eyes were opened, I did and learnt things that I’ll never forget and am so glad I took the opportunity to be involved in the program!