VETS UNITED in Uganda
Knowledge that saves lifes
Dr. Christine Montag, a German veterinarian, and Dr. Ruprecht Herbst, our VETS UNITED program director, report on the start of our mission in Uganda – a country where goats, cattle and chickens suffer immensely from insufficient veterinary care. As part of our program, the two were on site in September to further educate a group of thirty Community Animal Health Workers.
Background: Uganda, Africa
As part of our program, VETS UNITED aims to support and mentor a group of men and women who are known as Community Animal Health Workers in Uganda. Despite their lack of professional training, these men and women are responsible for the well-being of the majority of goats, cattle and chickens in the country. And especially in rural areas they are often the only chance sick farm animals have for survival. In contrast, the capacity of Uganda’s few professional veterinarians is mainly taken up with administrative tasks, such as disease control, hygiene management and the supervision of livestock markets.
Christine Montag (voluntary veterinarian, see picture on the right): “After a very warm welcome at the airport, we met the participants of the workshop. When I looked into their bright eyes, there was no doubt in my mind that the workshop in Uganda was going to be a full success — the participants’ enthusiasm and gratitude were palpable.”
Ruprecht Herbst (Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V., see picture on the left): “Absolutely. But it also proved to be a real challenge this time. The participants – 30 in total – were already seasoned Community Animal Health Workers, most of them having worked in their jobs for years. That’s why it was great to have two Ugandan veterinarians at our side: Sam, a volunteer from our partner organization BAM, who has years of experience as a veterinary officer, and Patrick, a young Ugandan who studied animal welfare and could point out many country-specific problems.”
Christine Montag: “The fact that the participants brought unique background knowledge with them was a challenging and very exciting experience for me, too. It was great to work with a group of very enthusiastic students, who were not afraid to showcase what they already knew – exuberantly, profusely and with lots of humor. However, they were also eager to try out new stuff.”
Ruprecht Herbst: “I talked to one participant at length about this. He went to school until 10th grade, then worked as the town’s mayor for a time, then as a farmer and, since 2013, he has been its Community Animal Health Worker. The only education he received for this job was a four-day training course. So you see there are significant gaps of knowledge — and that’s why our course was really important.”
Christine Montag: “I also thought that the encounters between our participants and local farmers were particularly insightful. We got to know how Ugandan farmers work tirelessly, but unfortunately with limited success, to protect their animals from the onslaught of parasites and the diseases those transmit. Because this is one of the main problems in many regions, and because the participants lacked the necessary background knowledge, it was very important to treat these topics in great detail. In the end, we tried to teach our participants not only how these kind of diseases are transmitted but also how to spot, diagnose and treat them correctly. With this knowledge, they will be able to save a lot of animals’ lives in the future.”
Ruprecht Herbst: “In the afternoons we tried more practical things, like vaccinating and deworming, as well as making proper halters for calves and cows. The problem is that the legs of these animals are often bound too tight, which can lead to painful cuts and injuries and, in turn, often leads to infections. We were also happy to show this technique to local farmers and we are certain that it will spread rapidly.”
Christine Montag: “Yes, and I believe it’s this combination of theory in the morning and practice in the afternoon that kept the course interesting and made the days pass quickly.”
Ruprecht Herbst: “It was also incredible that, despite the wealth of information, the group was always eager to learn more.”
Christine Montag: “Especially during their first attempts at sewing, when they were still practicing on cleaning rags, they worked zealously and with great perseverance. I was touched when some of them even asked to continue their sewing after the day’s training was over. They wanted to gather as much experience as possible before they had to apply their new technical and theoretical skills to real animals.”
Ruprecht Herbst: “Moreover, I was struck by how quickly the participants learned when we went to the livestock market.”
Christine Montag: “Yes, we divided them into small groups and asked them to assess the conditions of the different kinds of animals (cattle, sheep, goats and chickens) present. I was surprised by how confidently they interviewed the various sellers and buyers to get more information about an animal’s care and handling. And they were often able to offer suggestions for better care and treatment. In the following lecture we discussed our results in detail. That was great!”
Ruprecht Herbst: “I am very happy to say that all of our participants really earned their certificates. During the week-long workshop, they were always engaged, worked with great concentration and incorporated new information enthusiastically. Everybody said that they now felt much better prepared to help animals and promote sustainable animal health care in their communities. I believe everyone involved is looking forward to the next workshop!”
Christine Montag: “This much is certain: the first step of our aim to effect long-term change in Uganda has been made. I am already looking forward to seeing our Ugandan friends again and hope that this project will develop and prosper.