Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The BEVA Trust sent volunteers to WEVA 2018 to support the conference and provide speakers. Gill Riley talks about his experience...

I was delighted to be chosen to give a presentation at the WEVA congress in Beijing but more than a little unsure when the topic of ‘Equine Parasites and Colic’ was the one allocated to me. For an ambulatory vet with a tendency towards lameness and laminitis, this was going to be a challenging subject. I settled somewhat however when I realised it was one that would afford me a great opportunity to employ lots of striking and distinctive illustrations when composing my PowerPoint!

I prepared well in advance, partly because I knew as the trip drew close I would be working nineteen to the dozen to get my day to day work covered, but also because I have the good fortune to count Professor Derek Knottenbelt amongst my closest professional friends – after one phone call I very soon had an in-box full of material and photos of parasites, necrotic bowels and verminous arteritis!

The congress lasted for 4 days with wet-labs on the first day and then the presentations over the next 3 days. The venue was the China World hotel, a truly luxurious set-up with lecture rooms (and a shopping complex!) in the basement. The rooms and food were really excellent but they both paled in comparison when compared to the hospitality of the organising committee and the Chinese students. To a person there was a tremendous thirst for learning amongst them, busily scribbling notes as the translators relayed the speakers’ comments into their earpieces.

The level at which the presentations were pitched also put me at ease. With my speaking on a topic at which I could never be considered an authority (and would likely have been exposed as such at somewhere like BEVA!) here it was possibly an advantage as the students were coming from a basic level and the more simplistic presentations were the best received. To this end the very experienced speakers that we are all used to seeing at BEVA cranked the content of their talks down a couple of notches from their usual efforts and, as a result, they were able to take the audience with them. Apart from the familiar faces that fill the seats at BEVA (Ellen Singer, Andy Durham, Pete Clegg, Roger Smith, Derek Knottenbelt etc.)  I particularly enjoyed Francesca Compostella of the RSPCA speaking on her work in West Africa and Simon Curtis on simple farriery techniques. And then there was Chris Pollitt, the world authority on laminitis, entertaining everyone with how the pedal bone behaves within the hoof capsule when it is put under increasing force in a press!

My turn at the lectern came on day 2. The allocated time was 20 minutes and that meant 20 minutes - try for 21 minutes and it was made abundantly clear beforehand that you would find yourself being shooed off the stage. The organisers deserve a great deal of credit for the way they kept time and how seamlessly the presentations ran together. Such was the hospitality shown us by our hosts and the sense of camaraderie and warmth present within the hall, I wasn’t at all nervous when I took the microphone and, assisted by all those wonderfully gory slides(!), things seemed to go about as well as I could have expected. I received a polite round of applause but managed to milk a little more when I said “thank you” to the audience in Chinese! (it isn’t difficult – phonetically it’s ‘shay- shay’ if you’re interested!) So that was me done I thought… except it wasn’t. At an event before the dinner that evening (there was a different programme each evening followed by a fabulous meal and on this occasion it was the Beijing Symphony orchestra) I was approached by a representative of Xinjiang province to see if I would be interested in spending a couple of days visiting the government studs there to advise them on disease control/bio-security. On the closing of the congress I had been booked to join the 2 day tour of Beijing with the other delegates but I quickly decided that the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta army could wait - I gave the nod and my internal flights were booked.

Xinjiang province is in the extreme west of China, just to the north of Tibet and bordering Kazakhstan. The flight there from Beijing took 5 hours with a further 3 hours in a taxi so ‘remote’ doesn’t really do it justice! Ironically however, while the interpreter from Beijing who travelled with me found the whole area very foreign, with the region having experienced recent unrest and my childhood in N. Ireland while the troubles were very much a thing, the vehicle checkpoints that regularly punctuated the car trip really made me feel quite at home!

A meeting had been called for my arrival which the workers from the government studs in the area attended. I gave my presentation on parasites (again!) followed by a question and answer session which lasted a full two hours. It was quickly apparent that the general level of knowledge regarding disease prevention and treatment was very low. Worm control or farriery were unheard of and vaccination or antibiotics were simply unavailable. The remainder of the first day and the entirety of the second were spent visiting studs, each of which were experiencing high levels of neonate mortality. The importance of colostrum was clearly not fully appreciated and the necessity of isolating ill-foals as soon as they developed a bloody diarrhoea was totally unappreciated. I hope, with the help of my excellent interpreter, that by the time I had left Xinchiang at least those vital management rules had been taken on board. If not, it wasn’t through my lack of trying!

The entire trip to China was a wonderful experience where I feel I gained a real insight into how WEVA is actively improving the level of equine veterinary knowledge, and in turn horse welfare, in parts of the world where previously these things may not have been a priority. I am extremely grateful to the BEVA Trust for sponsoring my travel and I would say to any of you, if you are lucky enough to be invited to speak at the next WEVA congress (October 2019 in Verona) then don’t hesitate to accept – I assure you, you won’t regret it!
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