© Gudrun Senger

The Gambia April 2015

The team of VETS UNITED finished the first workshop unit in Gambia. Read here, how the manager of the project, Dr. Ruprecht Herbst, experienced that period.

„From the point of view of animal welfare The Gambia is a real challenge. Especially in the rural areas, each animal has to fulfil his/her task: Donkeys and horses are regarded as working animals, goats and cattle supply food, dogs have to guard the house. There is a sizzling heat everywhere, the way to the next well is long and roads are bad, so that animals are forced to over-achieve. Nonetheless, unfortunately owners have no possibility to offer adequate living conditions to their animals. Many of the 41,000 donkeys and horses suffer from malnutrition and have serious and untreated wounds. Yet they do not get any veterinary care because in Gambia, there is no university where veterinary medicine is taught, and the handful of existing vets have only settled in the more modern coastal regions. In the countryside, only so-called „para-vets“ are looking after animals, but their schooling is insufficient and they lack practical experience.

Education and vocational training in the villages
We want to change that by the help of our workshops. VETS UNITED have the aim to supply the para-vets with the necessary basic skills and knowledge, so that they will be able after the workshop to offer professional first aid to domestic and farm animals in the rural areas. Our first mission in Gambia took place in April and May 2015.

In the countryside surrounding Serekunda, where our workshop took place, Heather Armstrong, the leader of the local Horse and Donkey Trust, had done excellent preparatory work and won the interest of about 30 members of our workshop – both para-vets and Gambian vets. Furthermore, she reached animal owners in a radio spot where „free treatment and free health checks“ were promoted.

Theoretical knowledge for practical work
The workshop that lasted ten days offered a perfect combination between theory and practice to the participants: In the mornings our volunteer vet, Mr. Florian Reichert, gave lectures about topics of animal welfare and veterinary medicine and about the possibilities of first aid for infections and parasites of domestic and farm animals. The participants trained the proper dressing of wounds etc. immediately afterwards. In addition to our instruction material, the Gambian vets offered their impressions of practical work for discussions. Thus we learned, that medication is very expensive in Gambia and few people only have knowledge about the proper dosage and correct application. Hygienic measures are not very popular, so we dealt with these topics more profoundly.

The afternoons we dedicated to practical examples. Many owners travelled over long distances to have their animals treated by us. Day after day more and more children, too, came to the site where we held the workshop and whole classes from school as well. They followed the veterinary treatments with high curiosity and, eager for knowledge, asked many questions, which were answered elaborately both by the participants in the workshop and by us.

Learning by real case studies
Each day we had to see to dozens of donkeys and horses, but dogs, goats and sheep as well. Most of them suffered from worms and other parasites but also from open wounds caused by accidents or heavy burdens. We were confronted with complicated bone fractures and serious diseases like distemper. Whereas the donkeys patiently suffered our treatment, the handling of the dogs was more difficult. In Gambia many of them are both guard and stray dogs at the same time, and that often turns them wild, so that even their „owners“ dare not to touch them: We had to catch those shy dogs first, before we could actually vaccinate and neuter them!
Altogether, in the group we made the diagnoses and the clinical reports for all the animals. It was great to see, how the information imparted in the mornings immediately bore fruit and was applied in the local participants‘ practical work. After that, Florian Reichert executed the treatments under the watchful eyes of the group.

Our mission goes on

We returned to Gambia »for a second workshop and we worked with even greater intensity then. Now we know, which practices to dwell on more deeply, for example the treatment of wounds, the suturing, the application of medicines. But even now we are convinced that both the participants in our workshop and the owners of the animals have already learned a lot and that their new gained knowledge will directly benefit their animals.“