Vets Beyond Borders: Operation VetMatch in Cambodia

Head vet Dr Kea (far right) is assisted by a vet graduate at the PPAWS clinic while the owner looks on

Cambodia has one of the planet’s worst incidences of canine- mitigated rabies – it has the highest of any country on a per capita basis and is 3.5-fold higher than India. Rabies is a fatal disease in humans and although 100% preventable through pre- and post-exposure vaccination, nearly 800 people die of rabies in Cambodia every year, with at least 50% of these under the age of 15 (www.pasteur-kh.org/rabies). The World Health Organization says that 99% of rabies cases are transmitted by dog bite to humans. According to the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia, currently around 40,000 people are vaccinated yearly and it estimates that 600,000 Cambodians are bitten by dogs every year.

The Phnom Penh Animal Welfare Society (PPAWS) is a Vets Beyond Borders (VBB) approved VetMatch project that delivers vital rabies vaccinations in conjunction with sterilisation drives, and offers free vaccinations and sterilisation surgery every week at its clinic. It also works with other animal welfare projects and vet services in Cambodia, as everyone, along with VBB, is committed to creating a Cambodia of better health for animals and people.

During a 5-day visit to finalise VetMatch arrangements with PPAWS, Mandy Lamkin of VBB accompanied the team as they visited local temples where the vets check and vaccinate stray animals and take some back to the clinic for higher levels of care if needed.

Mandy Lamkin of VBB (second from right) is introduced to the facilities at PPAWS

“It‘s very clear from the time I spent with the PPAWS team that it’s a dedicated group running an efficient and viable project – mostly without the technical resources vet practices in Australia take for granted. Whatever challenges they encounter, the will to do better for the animals is ever-present in the PPAWS team, so it’s heart-warming to know that VBB is now set to be able to help them overcome a lot of these difficulties,” said Mandy.

Local projects make a big difference, but volunteers trained in developed countries can change so much for an under-resourced project in just a few days. Advanced interventions such as orthopaedic surgery are not open to PPAWS vets at the moment. Without training and the confidence that a guiding volunteer’s hand can give, these young vets will find it very difficult to otherwise realise the potential of their professional aspirations and personal dedication, so it’s a win-win initiative.

“While the projects can benefit from volunteers in substantial ways, I think our volunteers take away some extraordinary experiences from their work on the projects. It’s not only the endless appreciation of local new friends,” says Mandy. “The less- obvious bonus in volunteering is renewing a personal awareness of what it is to be a veterinarian or vet nurse.”

“Places like Cambodia and organisations like PPAWS remind us why we choose to help animals as the object of our professional life. Finding the words to articulate what the partnership between volunteering on an animal welfare project can offer very often falls short.”

Rescued puppy with typical skin disease recovers at PPAWS

Aside from its rescue work, the PPAWS clinic has a highly regarded status among veterinary services in the city and, although it is a registered charity, it does charge those who can afford to pay for the care of their animals. These funds go directly to supporting PPAWS’ free services and outreach to communities in the Cambodian provinces and islands. No homeless or other animal needing assistance is ever turned away from PPAWS. The homeless ones in recovery are typically fostered until they can be found caring homes either in Cambodia or overseas.

One of PPAWS’ impressive strategic initiatives is to elevate veterinary science in Cambodia. It engages new graduates from the veterinary school at the Royal University of Agriculture, Phnom Penh, in the project and gives them the opportunity to experience veterinary practice and surgery. This is highly valued by individual graduates and students and means that new veterinarians will regularly be exposed to the principles of One
Health, its importance in their communities and their professional capacity to make a difference.

VBB welcomes applications from veterinarians and vet nurses with more than 2 years’ practical experience to volunteer on established and pending VetMatch projects in Asia, India, Africa, Sardinia and the Pacific. Visit the website to find out more or email vetmatch@vetsbeyondborders.org.

Mandy Lamkin
Vets Beyond Borders

This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal

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