WVS International Veterinary Manager in Blantyre, Malawi for the first veterinary surgical course

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Why Dagmar is training vets and helping the dogs of Blantyre

Wed 18th May 2016

Exactly one year ago I spent three months here in Blantyre, Malawi. Back then my visit mainly focused on helping Mission Rabies setting up their vaccination campaign. One year on Mission Rabies has done an amazing job and the teams have not only vaccinated more than 70% of the dogs in the city of Blantyre, but also in the entire Blantyre district!

The Mission Rabies teams commenced their vaccination campaign again last week, repeating the mass vaccination drive throughout the city of Blantyre in May 2015.

I really enjoyed my time here last year and I am happy to be back and able to help some more of these friendly people and their lovely dogs.

This year, the focus of my visit is on training vets and improving the animal welfare of the dogs in Blantyre. The number of dogs living here is estimated to be at least 45,000 to 50,000. Almost all the dogs are owned and are living very closely with the families. Even if they don’t get stroked a lot and are sleeping outside, it’s very obvious that many Malawians are keeping dogs as their companions, caring about their wellbeing and wanting them to be healthy.

Malawi, like many other African countries, doesn’t face the problem of an overpopulation of dogs, as they do in India and other Asian countries. As there is hardly any waste seen on the streets, free roaming dogs can’t easily survive on the streets. On average, it seems that at least 50% of puppies in a litter will not survive the first 6 months of their life due to lack of food and infectious diseases like parvovirus and distemper.

During the first two weeks of my visit, we ran the first surgical training course for African vets on the new premises of the Blantyre SPCA.

The new BSPCA shelter is still under construction but the clinic is already built and equipped and it’s absolutely fantastic! WVS has received a huge amount of donated items as a result of our ‘Equip a Clinic’ appeal last year and we were able to send a container filled with surgical tables, a gas anesthetic machine, a large number of boxes filled with medical supplies, an oxygen generator, two pallets of skin and surface disinfectant, dog and cat boxes and much much more!

It was amazing for me to now see all these supplies put to such good use at the new clinic and WVS is grateful for the close collaboration with the BSPCA who made it possible for this course to happen! Defence, one of the BSPCA staff members was working very hard every day, making sure to bring enough dogs from all over the city for the training course!

The participating vets came from Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi and it was a mixed group of NGO workers, state vets and vets working in private practice. The main focus was obviously on teaching best surgical methods for spay and neuter surgeries but also on implementing the animal welfare aspect into all decision made. The vets learnt to understand the meaning of the five freedoms when it comes to pain relief, best surgical techniques, animal shelters and also euthanasia. There were many fruitful discussions after each lecture and it was very interesting to hear that some of the participants would take other decisions now, than previously when they weren’t aware of the aspects of animal welfare.

The teaching staff were vet and vet nurse volunteers from the UK and Ireland, plus Dr Vinay, one of the vets from the WVS ITC in India with years of teaching experience and Cait, a vet from the USA who has been working for WVS for the last 12 months, setting up the new ITC in Thailand and who has now spent two months in Malawi, working incredibly hard to set up the BSPCA clinic for the training course and the sterilisation drive afterwards. We were also lucky to have Sam and Mark from Dogstar as part of the team who are happy to share their own experiences in running a successful spay and neuter project in Sri Lanka.

After finishing the training course our team, then started a mass sterilisation campaign at the end of April, working alongside the Mission Rabies teams for a whole month. It’s a great opportunity for all of us being able to work together, as the WVS team is not only sterilising dogs at the static vaccination points (which are set up in Primary schools every weekend) but we are also able to respond to cases the door-to-door vaccination teams are picking up.

For example, we were able to remove a very large mammary tumour, which was impairing the movement of a dog. Although she is already 12 years old, she still has got a great quality of life and the owner was incredibly happy when he came to the clinic yesterday, visiting her after the successful operation!

A very large number of dogs here are suffering of TVTs (transmissible venereal tumours), which are passed from one dog to the next when mating. I have come across the biggest and most horrible TVTs, that I have ever seen within the last week and we don't only just sterilise these poor dogs so they can’t spread the tumours to other dogs, but we also treat them with Vincristine, a chemotherapy drug which can often result in complete remission of the tumour. Every week we are now sending out one team of vets to treat the TVT patients, administering the treatment, which is greatly improving the lives of these dogs.

The vaccination teams are also seeing many dogs with old fractures who we can help by amputating the painful legs and we are also responding to calls about dogs who can’t be helped anymore, but can at least be humanely euthanised to end their suffering.

All these patients are being looked after by an owner and it’s so nice to see how affectionate some children are treating their dogs. A few days ago I watched a little boy walking off with his female adult dog after she had her surgery at a primary school in Chilomoni. She was still very unsteady on her legs and the boy stopped every few steps, talking to her, supporting her.

Even though we might often not recognise these dogs as pets because our expectations are completely different we need to understand that these dogs are also loved and looked after in the best way possible. In one of the poorest countries in the world where people struggle to have enough food for themselves this human-dog relationship is a different one to what we are used to, which doesn’t mean it’s worth less.

I am very happy that we can do our part if helping these dogs and their owners: by improving the health and quality of their dog’s life, by reducing the amount of puppies which have to be fed and indirectly we are supporting the fight against rabies: by keeping the vaccinated dog population more stable, the vaccination coverage can be kept above the needed 70% for a longer time.

For the next three weeks our team of 5 vets and 5 nurses will continue to sterilise and treat as many dogs as possible, improving the animal welfare of each dog brought to us.