Veterinary Public Health in Luang Prabang, Laos
During my final year of veterinary science I was given the opportunity to travel to Laos to carry out my public practice placement. The University of Sydney has been collaborating with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) for a number of years through a series of Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded projects. I stayed at the DLF Regional Office in the city of Luang Prabang, one of South-East Asia’s popular tourist destinations. The trip was an amazing experience that gave me insight into the Laos culture and also revealed the career options available for future veterinarians like myself in veterinary public health and agriculture research and development projects. I was awarded an AsiaBound scholarship (now part of the New Colombo Plan), and the funding I received provided me with this great opportunity to travel and learn in Southeast Asia, something that I could not afford if it wasn’t for the scholarship.
I attended a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccination campaign field trip to the Kasi district. It was eye opening to see how the vaccination team could successfully vaccinate and ear tag the cattle and buffalo with such limited resources. The way the vaccination team would teach the farmers about livestock handling and vaccination was also valuable. At the start of the day the vaccination team would show the farmers how to catch, restrain and vaccinate the cattle safely. They would then allow the farmers to vaccinate, assisting them when they needed help. By the end of the day the farmers were able to proficiently vaccinate their cattle by themselves, a skill that is vital in control of FMD in the country.
Photo:Russell discusses vaccination and ear tagging with farmers
While I was predominately stationed at the Luang Prabang DLF office, I was also able to attend an ACIAR project inception workshop in Vientiane and a FMD project co-ordination committee at the Department. I was also able to network with key leaders in the veterinary profession including Dr. Gardner Murray (former Australian Chief Veterinary Officer) and Ronello Abila (SEA OIE representative). The diverse range of activities that I participated in increased my awareness of the veterinary public health work that takes place in developing countries like Laos.
Photo: Russell (front: second from left) and Tom Boyle (front: left) and Kasi District Livestock extension staff
The aspect of the placement that I enjoyed the most was working at the Luang Prabang veterinary clinic. Being the first veterinary clinic in Luang Prabang, the clinic provides veterinary care for both locals and ex-pats in the area. Importantly, the clinic undertakes Rabies vaccination campaigns to help promote public awareness and prevent this important disease and One Health issue. Dr Syseng Khounsy had a lot of confidence in me, encouraged self-directed learning and gave me autonomy; as a result I was in charge of the wide variety of cases that came in. The cases ranged from parvovirus, tick infestations, vaccinations, stitch-ups and motor vehicle accidents. I also had limited diagnostic equipment and drugs, which meant that I had to be innovative and practical in coming up with my diagnosis’ and treatments.
The most challenging aspect of the placement was the language barrier. At the beginning of the placement I was unable to speak Laos and could not effectively communicate with the local people. However, as the placement went on my Laos language improved due to the help I received from department staff. By the end of the placement I was able to satisfactorily communicate with the Laos people. This not only helped me with my learning but also assisted me in passing on my veterinary knowledge and skills.
Overall, the placement was a fantastic way to explore Laos in particular the world heritage city of Luang Prabang. It also gave me insight into the different aspects of veterinary science that exist in Laos. Most importantly it showed me the endless opportunities available for veterinarians in developing countries like Laos. I highly recommend the trip for any students that are contemplating on studying abroad.
Photo: Russell performs a clinical exam on Kenji with suspected parvovirus