Australian veterinary students experience FMD control challenges in northern Laos

By Janet Nguyen (BVSc V student, University of Sydney, New Colombo Plan Scholarship recipient) – Janet traveled to Laos for 1 month to participate in the Australian Centre of International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) funded project aiming to enhance transboundary livestock disease management in Laos.

In late May 2016, Kate Sze-Kay Luk (also a final year veterinary student) and I embarked on a journey to Nan district, approximately one-hour drive from the popular tourist destination Luang Prabang in northern Laos. It was interesting seeing the steep inclines of utilised farmland which were noticeably unlike the flat plains I’m more used to in Australia. We arrived at a guesthouse which had basic facilities but I was thankful we were given a room and comfortable bed to rest in and the air conditioning was a bonus! In the afternoon we were invited to lunch with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) staff members. Lunch was the now familiar bowl of Pho or Vietnamese noodles which provided a satisfying meal. In the evening we joined the DLF staff members again for a meal. The meal was novel to me and proved another delicious surprise. Dinner consisted of a bamboo basket of sticky rice and two dishes, both of which contained fish. The first bowl that arrived on our table was a soup dish and the second plate was laap, a somewhat spicy but refreshing dish with fish and various herbs. We were given a quick lesson on how the dishes were eaten; a handful of sticky rice was rolled into a ball which was used to scoop the accompanying dishes. Although we were new to this method of eating, we were happy to follow their example and enjoyed the new culinary experience!


Photo: Kate Sze-Kay Luk (left) and Janet Nguyen (right) trying out some Lao cuisine!

The next day we embarked on a short walk to the first village with our DLF vaccination team. Each vaccination team consisted of four people and there were four teams in total. Each team carried with them an esky with bottles of vaccinations for haemorrhagic septicaemia (HS) and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) – both diseases are exotic to Australia – a box of needles and syringes and ear tags with applicators. We arrived at the Head of the village’s house and exchanged introductions and formalities.


I found it very interesting that both the ducks and chickens were free to roam around the front yard and scavenge food for themselves. Unlike the broilers in Australia, these birds were a lot leaner and more ambulatory as they did have have the same musculoskeletal issues seen in broilers in Australia. The husbandry practices and productions system in Lao PDR were completely different to Australia’s; in Laos poultry production is dominated by backyard systems which was a stark contrast to the commercialised systems in Australia. It was also apparent that veterinary services were limited especially in more rural areas. This made me ponder on the impact of infectious diseases. Although devastating, the impacts from major infectious diseases like Avian Influenza and Newcastle disease in backyard poultry would be quite different compared to in the commercial sector. The different production systems mean that approaches to biosecurity would need to be carefully implemented. It’s easy to imagine the impacts of a disease outbreak in a small rural village causing major implications on income loss for already poor families and human health.


Behind the Head of the village’s house there was a huge plot of land used for crops and animals. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a cattle crush for safe animal restraint. All the animals on this property were free to roam the area, however all of them had a rope which was a few metres long and attached to a noose around their necks and unlike in Australia, these animals were freely roaming unconfined by fences. I also noticed there was a lack of holding yards to gather the animals to a single location. Instead, the villagers would bring the animals up one-by-one by leading them on the free end of the rope. Using the length of the rope, a makeshift halter was made to help restrain the head while the animal was brought in closer to the tree. Once the animal was adequately restrained, a DLF staff member would approach the animal from the side and vaccinate the animal with the two vaccines. The first vaccination was the HS vaccine; this vaccine was administered subcutaneously in the lower part of the neck. The staff member positioned the beveled edge of the 18G needle almost parallel to the skin but slightly off the vertical. Each animal was given 3mL of the vaccine, administered on one side of the neck while 2mL of the FMD vaccination was given on the opposite side of the neck. The FMD vaccination was given intramuscularly below the vertebrae and higher up in the neck compared to the HS vaccination. I was quite surprised at how well tolerated this procedure was. The method of restraint here was something that was completely different to what I had been used to. In Australia, animals requiring a vaccination were moved into a crush or a race however here in Laos, only minimal restraint (of the head) was practiced. This presented safety concerns associated with this type of restraint, however the lack of facilities meant that this was unavoidable. I ensured I was out of harm’s way whenever possible by keeping a safe distance from the animal. The method of restraint did come across as a surprise to me initially however after vaccinating several animals I started to become more accustomed to the practice while remaining cautious. You make more effort to read the animal and watch its movements and demeanor. Along with the vaccination some animals also required an ear tag and this was predominantly done by a DLF staff member. It was a pleasure working alongside the villagers and learning more about their lifestyles. It was evident that in more rural areas livestock production is an important source of income and the initiatives to help safeguard this livelihood was evidently appreciated. After the morning vaccination session, we joined the Head of the village for a breakfast made by his wife and daughter. The display of food was quite interesting and I was taken aback by some of the exotic dishes. Like other Laotian dishes, sticky rice was offered and we helped ourselves to the chicken soup and spicy dishes. I was not attuned to spiciness of the dishes and although delicious I could not eat a lot of it. I was encouraged to try a delicacy consisting of fried grasshoppers and although curious, I was unable to overcome my distaste for insects. Following breakfast, we walked a kilometer up the road to another property to continue the vaccinations.


Photo: The students participating in large0scale FMD vaccination campaigns in northern Laos.

The next day we moved onto a second village. Again, we met up with the Head of the village and had breakfast before venturing out into the field to vaccinate the animals. This particular village raised buffaloes which I anticipated would present more of a challenge to us than the domesticated cattle. However, surprisingly the buffaloes were very quiet and although quite intimidating to approach were calm and quite familiar with the sight of the villagers. Again, restraint of these animals were quite minimal. Unlike the cattle from yesterday, most of the buffaloes did not have a noose around their necks and so the villagers had to catch them first before bringing them in to a tree or post. The process was slow but quite effective. The noose was secured in a slit made into a bamboo stick and this was used as an extension of the villager’s arm to catch the animals. Once the animal was caught, the loose end of the rope was tethered to a secure post before the animal was brought in closer. The head was restrained with a figure-8-like configuration made with the length of the rope. The approach to vaccinating buffaloes was similar to cattle and similarly an ear tag was given when required. Comparatively, I found it was more difficult to vaccinate the buffaloes as the skin was thicker and the buffaloes’ horns were a lot larger which obscured the view of the neck and presented an additional safety hazard. The terrain here was also more steeply inclined than the previous village and with the wet weather, getting around was more difficult. Overall the experience of vaccinating buffaloes was rewarding as it allowed me to work with animals which was an experience I have not had before. It was insightful to discover the relationship the villagers had with the animals and this made me realise that livestock animals are very much ingrained into their livelihood of the village folk and are important sources of income and food security.


The rest of the week was not dissimilar to the events of the first two days. On the second-to-last day I had the opportunity to work with another DLF staff member who devised a method to better safely restrain the animals. A fairly large branch was planted firmly into the ground and secured to a sturdy tree at the free end; this apparatus would then serve as the head restraint once the animal was walked in between the tree and the branch. I thought this was very clever from a practicality and safety point of view as it meant the animal did not require as much handling. The animals also seemed to cope with this method a lot better and did not resist it as much.


Overall the experience was a rewarding one. I observed many differences in the practices here in Laos compared to those used with Australian livestock. It was great to become a part of this initiative to help prevent important diseases seen in livestock production and it definitely provided me with a new found awareness of the exotic disease threats in the country. The experience also highlighted the importance of veterinary attention. In light of the economic and development situation in Laos, it is not always possible for livestock to receive immediate veterinary attention due to costs and limited (but developing) veterinary services. It is evident that the vaccination programs (and other preventive focused interventions) are pertinent as these major infectious diseases not only affect the welfare of an animal in the event of an outbreak but there’s also the major impact on human lives both economically and socially. As well as increasing my awareness of how veterinary services can be implemented in a rural setting, the experience gave me an insight into the rich Lao culture. It was quite exciting and novel for me to interact with the local villagers and share meals with them. Although the language barrier made communication difficult, I could still appreciate their warm gestures and open generosity. I learned to appreciate the basic necessities of living and the connectedness of the community was quite endearing to see. In rural northern Laos, technology was quite limited, food was cooked over a fire and air conditioning and internet were considered luxuries which many could not afford. Showering facilities were limited; most villages washed themselves using a tub of water and the toilets were not flushable which may come across as a surprise to some. These experiences have culminated to provide a greater understanding of the culture and despite some of struggles I faced, I could still appreciate and respect the Lao culture. I felt that this trip was definitely an eye opener. The lessons I’ve learned about livestock production and the culture in Laos were numerous and enriching.


Photo: Local Lao food delicacies!


Workshop on using Case Studies in advancing the Lao Veterinary Curriculum

On April 27th, Russell Bush, Sonevilay Nampanya and Peter Windsor facilitated a ‘Workshop on using Case Studies in advancing the Lao Veterinary Curriculum’ at the Nabong campus of the National University of Laos, Faculty of Agriculture, near Vientiane capitol. The workshop was developed from a request by Faculty staff, following an ADB supported review of the curriculum conducted in 2014 by Peter Windsor, and the current curriculum development led by inputs from Russell Bush.
The workshop involved 11 Lao participants (one female) that were actively teaching in the relatively new BVSc curriculum (2 cohorts now graduated) but still delivering content by mainly didactic teaching. The role of case studies in encouraging active-learning was explained, and a simplified process of writing them, detailed. This included developing learning objectives, writing case scenarios, devising sequential question tasks, providing learning resources, advice on potential student presentations and assessment techniques, and finally a discussion of the expected learning outcomes.
Examples of student cases cases used in Sydney were presented, as were cases developed from MLR publications from Laos. The participants were then requested to develop a case study that would be suitable for their own units of study, and these were discussed. This workshop is particularly important for Laos as it is a great challenge for these mostly young and inexperienced staff to deliver a complete veterinary curriculum that is expects to resemble the OIE Model Vet Curriculum, with few staff and minimal resources.
Despite loss of electricity during the middle of a day of maximum heat (>40C), when both the Australian participants partially melted, the workshop was a great success. The workshop will hopefully assist the Faculty both ‘do more with less’, plus achieve improved student learning, particularly if a follow-up workshop can be organised on future visits to Laos by the MLR team.

Work of MLR shared with Indonesia


On April 5th, Prof. Peter Windsor (6th from left) presented a talk on the work of the MLR team to a delegation of 9 high level Indonesian government officials on developments in our beef industries. His presentation and discussion was part of an extensive list of topics delivered at the MLA (Meat and Livestock Australia) offices in Sydney, with other days including integrated government-industry discussions and field visits in Brisbane and Darwin to illustrate applications of technical topics discussed in sessions. These ranged from NLIS (identification systems), beef processing and marketing, the live cattle trade, welfare and many more.The Indonesian group developed overall key learnings for Indonesia and Australia from the course, including next steps in advancing better practice in the livestock industries of Indonesia. Although the group was focusing more on the commercial beef sector, the MLR work with smallholders generated considerable discussion in several key areas, including forage growing, legume choices, silage production, beef processing systems, delivery of anthelmintics in molasses-urea blocks, anti-microbial use and food safety and animal welfare issues. Other University of Sydney staff involved in the MLA day included David Boyd (course coordinator), Jenny-Ann Toribio on epidemiology studies (4th from right) and Helen Scott-Orr (5th from right) who led the course.

On the 30th March Sonevilay submitted his PhD Thesis in Sydney! His PhD research topic: ‘Progressing smallholder large ruminant productivity and transboundary disease risk management for poverty reduction in Northern Lao PDR’ was submitted by publication and his list of peer-reviewed publications can be accessed here:

SN submission

Photo: Sonevilay Nampanya (left) with supervisor Professor Peter Windsor at his submission on 30th March 2016.

Katherine Ashley (PhD student) – 18th March, 2015

A two-day workshop was held on the 20-21st February marking project commencement of ‘Development of a biosecure market-driven beef production system in Laos PDR (AH/2012/068)’ and ‘Enhancing transboundary livestock disease risk management in Lao PDR (AH/2012/067)’.

Held in Vientiane, Laos, the workshop brought together in-country partners involved in both projects and we were grateful for the presence of the Australian Ambassador to Laos, Mr John Williams, Dr Bounkhoung Khambounheung, Director General, Department of Livestock and Fisheries and representatives from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) alongside colleagues from the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, Department of Planning, National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos and the Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Science, Savannakhet University.

Workshop participants on day 1 of the 2-day meeting in Vientiane.

Workshop participants on day 1 of the 2-day meeting in Vientiane.

The inception workshop was an informative and engaging session and provided an in-depth discussion of the project objectives, activities and expected outcomes and the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders for each project. These discussions were complimented by presentations provided by Lao project staff into the current state of the nations large ruminant sector, the national strategic plan for large ruminant production and the national strategic plan for large ruminant research. The USYD project staff then had the opportunity to provide information to our Lao colleagues on recent studies into the large ruminant market and carcass composition, the prevalence and control of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the region, the financial impact and knowledge of FMD in Laos and the socio-economic impact of improved livestock production and the importance of women and girls in agriculture.

The Mekong Livestock Research team is now looking forward to a busy and productive 2015 with the roll-out of both projects across Laos and working with our in-country partners to develop a biosecure market driven beef production system in Laos and enhance transboundary livestock disease risk management. This will involve close collaboration with project sponsors, project staff and project participants and we look forward to working with these partners to achieve improved smallholder livestock production and health!

Veterinary teaching capacity building links with new ACIAR projects in Lao PDR

17th March, 2015

In mid-2014, Prof Peter Windsor of the Mekong Livestock Research (MLR) Team of the University of Sydney (USYD) Faculty of Veterinary Science, assisted by Mr Sonevilay Nampanya, conducted a curriculum review of the new veterinary degree at the National University of Laos (NUOL) at Nabong campus, near Vientiane capital, Lao PDR. This initiative, supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), followed an OIE-led PVS (Provision of Veterinary Services) mission several years ago, when it was recognised that Laos needed to produce veterinary graduates capable of delivering day one competencies (DOC) in veterinary public to meet the SPS (Sanitary & Phytosanitary Services) needs of the country, particularly with increasing Transboundary, Zoonotic and Emerging Disease threats.

Prof Peter Windsor (back) with Mr Sonevilay Nampanya (3rd from right) at NUOL Curriuculm Review Workshop in Laos, September 2014

Prof Peter Windsor (back) with Mr Sonevilay Nampanya (2nd from right) at NUOL Curriuculm Review Workshop in Laos, September 2014

NUOL Nabong campus produced the first cohort of 26 BVSc graduates in May 2013 with limited staff and facilities following commencement of training in 2008. Several initiatives are under discussion to provide continuing external support in veterinary teaching at NUOL, particularly with training in clinical practice and upgrading of courses in the veterinary public health disciplines, plus collaboration with USYD research and teaching projects. A proposed upgrade of the current 5 year BVSc to a 6 year DVM was suggested, to harmonise with similar degrees in the region. A new curriculum for the DVM was proposed to build more clarity in the learning for staff and students, and many new initiatives including innovative teaching methodologies in each Unit of Study were suggested to increases the responsibility of students for their own learning. Despite a range of opinions on the numbers of veterinarians required in Laos, there is some consensus that 25 to 30 new vets should graduate per annum, although placing these in employment will require considerable effort in building close stakeholder community partnerships, with several likely to be employed in a new livestock development project funded by ADB and IFAD, and in two new research projects funded by ACIAR, all now commencing in Laos.

Veterinary Teaching staff of the NUOL Naong campus during the curriculum review process in 2014, with Sonevilay Nampmanya (blue T shirt)

Veterinary Teaching staff of the NUOL Nabong campus during the curriculum review process in 2014, with Sonevilay Nampanya (blue T shirt)

The new ACIAR-funded projects are ‘Development of a Biosecure Market-driven production system in Lao PDR’ and ‘Enhancing Transboundary Livestock Disease Risk Management in Lao PDR’, both involving collaboration of the MLR of the USYD, with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries and the National Agricultural and Forestry research institute, plus NUOL and Savannakhet universities. Text books from USYD were presented to Dr Vannaphone Putthana of the Nabong campus Faculty at both a curriculum review workshop for ADB in late 2014, and an ACIAR project inception meeting workshop in Vientiane in February 2015, linking the NUOL curriculum review with current and future activities aimed at building TAD’s and EAD’s capacities in Laos and addressing food security and rural poverty through smallholder livestock development.

Prof Windsor presents veterinary text books donated by the University of Sydney to Dr Vannaphone Putthana, of NUOL Nabong at the ACIAR inception meeting in February 2015

Prof Windsor presents veterinary text books donated by the University of Sydney to Dr Vannaphone Putthana, of NUOL Nabong at the ACIAR project inception meeting in February 2015

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 50 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.