Malawi is one of the poorest ten countries in the world. Where humans worry for their daily meal, animals cannot possibly live happily. With our program VETS UNITED, it is our aim to establish veterinary care in the country in the long term in order to guarantee a better life for animals. Our first mission there took place in June 2015.
Malawi in South East Africa is ridden with poverty. They say that the majority of the 14 million inhabitants have to live of less than one US-Dollar per day. In spite of that (or rather because of that), many people keep animals. Chickens, pigs, cows, sheep and goats supply food and have traditionally always been favoured „assets“. Yet many of these animals suffer from deficient living conditions and from severe parasite infestations. Additionally in the capital Lilongwe alone, about 38,000 dogs roam freely. Thousands more live as watchdogs on plots of land. Most of these dogs are not castrated and have never received any kind of veterinary treatment, they multiply unchecked and often transmit dangerous diseases, rabies, for example. Only a handful of veterinary surgeons are there in the whole country of Malawi to care for the protection of animals.
Within the framework of our program VETS UNITED we plan to further our engagement and to guarantee a lasting improvement of the welfare of animals in Malawi.
Veterinary theory and practical experiences for students
Birgit Schnabel, a voluntary vet from the Rhineland area in Germany accompanied our first course that started in June 2015. 14 students of the first year of the new course of studies „Doctor of Veterinary Medicine“ of Lilongwe University for Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), men and women in their mid-twenties, enrolled as participants of our two-week workshop. The launching of this new course of studies, taking five years, that turns students into veterinary surgeons, rises hopes all over the country. In the mornings, we held our theoretical classes at the university. For the field exercises, we visited among others the university’s own farm and accompanied our mobile clinics into two regions bordering Lilongwe.
Already on the first day it proved, that the preconditions for our mission could not be any better. Unlike in Gambia, we met with students at the end of their first year of study who all had the same level of knowledge. As the manager of the program, Dr. Ruprecht Herbst put it: „We met with a really capable team, that one day will save the lives of thousands of animals in Malawi.“
For two weeks, nobody thought about being poor.
On the first day, we visited farms in the surroundings of the university. One farm was the home of five dairy cows, about 700 sheep, 3000 broiler chickens and 50 pieces of „feeder cattle“. The task for the students was to evaluate the farm with regard to the internationally known „Five Freedoms“, which form the basic principle of our notion of animal welfare. The „Five Freedoms“ list what every single animal is entitled to:
1. Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, 2. Freedom from discomfort; 3. Freedom from fear and suffering, 4. Freedom from pain, injury and disease, 5. Freedom of outliving normal behaviour. The practical experience visibly impressed the young students because they had not known any farm of such a size before, that is very untypical for Malawi. We acquainted the students with individual treatments of feeder cattle and much more.
The following days brought clinical examinations and practical exercises: How to calculate the heart rate? How to find lymph nodes? Where exactly to listen to the heart beat? It was a major success, as we soon learned, because most of the students had never before worked with a stethoscope. In addition, our work in the laboratory and first experiences with a microscope were of great interest for the students.
In the afternoons, we stopped at various villages and vaccinated up to 600 dogs per day against rabies. All animals were registered and got a vaccination card. About 200 dog owners came to meet our mobile castration clinic and 61 dogs were neutered.
The huge interest in our work is a good signal: It shows that the Malawi population is well aware of the fact, that castrations are important to reduce the number of dogs in the country on the long run. Numerous children listened to what we had to say and tried to come as close as possible to our tents, to see all that there was to be seen. It is fantastic when children – animal welfare activists of the future – are keen to learn how to treat animals better, how to understand animals better. However, it shocked us to see the kinds of leashes that were used: There was everything from rusty wire to torn fabric and chains with lockers being used as lead. A simple collar and a proper lead could not be seen anywhere! But most of the dogs are not normally walked on a lead and were reluctant to be dragged by their owners through the dust to receive an unfamiliar treatment.
A workshop team that will aid many animals in the future
The students clearly proved in the new situations they were thrown into, that their existing knowledge plus huge curiousness to gain even more knowledge is the ideal background for the workshops of VETS UNITED. The students were motivated and open. Already in our first course, they got a lot of practical experience and theoretical knowledge, too. »In our second workshop we responded individually to their curriculum and deepend the practice of suturing and bandaging. There was more work in the laboratory, too.