In February 2018 BEVA Volunteers were sent to the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust to help provide veterinary care and education. The volunteers tell us how they got on.
The UK registered equine charity is managed by Heather Armstrong and runs two stationary veterinary outposts in the small former British colony just north of the equator. The organisation has the vision to reduce rural poverty by increasing productivity of working animals in in the country. Donkeys and horses play an essential role in transportation of goods for the Gambians, and by providing education and veterinary care the charity provide important support to local communities, improving not only the welfare of the animals but of their owners too.
During the first week Karen and Markus joined the staff at the Makasutu main station – not far from Gambia’s international airport. Here a purpose-built facility including stables, treatment and storage rooms, staff quarters, accommodation for visiting vets and a classroom provide a good setting to look after donkeys and horses that have been more severely wounded or disabled as well as facilities to provide teaching and education to any who want it. Ailments range from severe traumas like land mine injuries and road traffic accidents to less severe but chronic and debilitating (rub) sores from badly fitting tack. In addition to treating animals at the clinic, field trips to surrounding villages were organised. The call-outs usually started with a small number of animals, but the news of a veterinary visit spread like a bush fire and very quickly more and more owners showed up with their donkeys in tow to get teeth checked and rasped if needed, small wounds looked after, badly misshaped feet trimmed, or suspected trypanosomiasis treated.
What was very encouraging was that several owners showed up with no concerns about their animals but just wanting a check over. This showed the charity has good relationships with the animal owners and the education message about the importance of regular checks is slowly getting through. Whereas most minor ailments were treated on the spot, for some animals it was decided to transport them to the hospital for more intensive and longer care treatment or a more detailed work-up. With the discovery of a brand new digital radiography system which was successfully assembled, from now on particularly orthopaedic conditions can be diagnosed more accurately and much more specific treatments initiated. Training was given to two of the staff in radiography – both in how to set up the machine, take and develop radiographs but also the health and safety side to ensure correct protocols are followed.
On Saturdays volunteer students - “the Animal Advocates“ - regularly visit the clinic and get training on various veterinary or husbandry subjects – and then go back to their villages and schools to spread their knowledge. Heather believes passionately in education in order to improve animal welfare and the student’s enthusiasm and passion was very evident when they performed dramas for us to show what they had learnt about harnessing or wound care and how equines were sentient beings that deserved respect.
After a busy first week Karen and Markus travelled approximately 250 km upriver to a smaller veterinary station in Sembal Kunda – not far from Janjanbureh / former Georgetown. Though being less well equipped this more remote outpost is the seeding point for The Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust and remains to be an important local base to support donkey owners. While Karen and Markus concentrated on both stationary treatments and field visits this camp has also been repeatedly the base for field-based research into vector-transmitted infectious diseases like trypanosomiasis. There were not as many field trips needed here compared to Makasutu, due to the timing of the trip, so time was spent with the staff teaching and discussing subjects as wide ranging as drug administration, wound care, parturition and dystocia and farriery.
A long list of visiting veterinarians – many of them supported by the BEVA Trust - have helped to train the local para-veterinary staff to a level that they are proficient to cope with day-to day problems. More serious injuries though can still represent a challenge and while the short duration of veterinary visits benefits the exposure to many different “expert” opinions there is a challenge of consistency in veterinary professional care and the availability of adequate medical resources. The long-term goal remains to build a broad base of local knowledge that will render the staff more and more independent from expat veterinary support – until then it will not be the last time that we or other colleagues will make their way into The Gambia.
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