Fiona Thomson took time away from Pets'n'Vets, Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, to spend two weeks volunteering in Blantyre, Malawi, as part of Mission Rabies' first trip to Africa. She spoke to Vet Record Careers just before departing for Malawi on May 14.
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How does it feel being involved in Mission Rabies' new project in Africa?
I feel very privileged to be one of the first vets to volunteer on the Blantyre project. Mission Rabies started in Goa, India, in 2013, and its goal is to eliminate rabies around the world. The project was a huge success in India, and it is now targeting Blantyre because the central hospital there annually records a higher incidence of child rabies deaths than ant other single institution in Africa. I'm looking forward to having an impact on the elimination of rabies from both the human and animal population. It will be my first visit to Africa, and I'm sure it won't be my last.
How did you get involved?
My bosses at ‘Pets'n’Vets' provided the opportunity and I jumped at the chance.
Where will you be based?
Although we will be based near the central hospital, we will travel to different neighbourhoods daily, responding to rabies alert calls.
What sort of team will you have to help you?
Each team is comprised of two vets (one local and one from overseas), two trained dog handlers (usually local people) and a number of helpers. The veterinarians are solely responsible for the animals' health and welfare.
What do you aim to achieve?
Our target is to vaccinate 30,000 dogs in a month. Malawi has an estimated dog population of 200,000, so this is just the beginning. The three main crucial aims of Mission Rabies are:
Mass vaccination: if we vaccinate 70 per cent of the dog population in Malawi, we will have control over rabies – at the moment, rabies has control of the Malawian population.
Population control: neutering stray and privately owned dogs is a means of controlling the population.
Education: raising awareness of the virus, the disease and dog behaviour in the local communities.
What difference does Mission Rabies make?
The charity's website (www.missionrabies.com) says: ‘Across the world, 100 children die from rabies every day. We're going to change that.’
What preparations have you made?
I've increased my knowledge and understanding of rabies, both as an extremely clever virus and the fatal disease. I have had my three rabies inoculations as well as a course of anti- malarial tablets.
How different will the experience be to your day job?
There will be a few differences, mainly the conditions that the dogs are kept in, their health status and their role in society. Here in the UK, we are good at insuring our animals as we can often afford to. This provides our animals with the best healthcare available.
In poor, rural areas of the world most of the dogs are street dogs and, the few that are privately owned are mainly used as guard dogs. They are usually kept outside with very little control or handling.
Have you done any previous volunteering?
Yes, as students, my friend Kirsty Vadon and I spent some time in Malaga, Spain, helping to neuter stray dogs and then to rehome them all over the world. It was a fantastic experience.