In Tanzania, the overpopulation of cats and dogs poses a threat to animals, the environment, and community health.
With a serious lack of available veterinary care, most people are unable to have their personal cats and dogs spayed or neutered, nor can many people afford to vaccinate, deworm, or protect their animals from fleas and ticks.
As part of its Spay/Neuter/Infectious Disease Control Program, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine has been providing these services in Tanzania for several years.
Working in conjunction with the Sokoine University of Agriculture College of Veterinary and Medical Sciences, Illinois professors offer their students the opportunity to experience veterinary medicine in an international context. Meanwhile, the schools and students provide a significant service to the overall health of animals and humans in Tanzania.
In this blog, Jon Powers, a veterinary student from the University of Illinois, describes his experience in Tanzania.
For 11 days, our group of five students and two professors provided companion animal sterilization, vaccinations, and deworming in Tanzania.
Population control and vaccination are important for human health worldwide, but especially in the regions we visited.
Higher numbers of unvaccinated wild dogs means a higher risk of rabies among the population of dogs. This is transmissible to humans and always fatal.
The rabies vaccine is now mandatory by law in Tanzania. If your animal does not have a certificate of vaccination, you are at risk for a fine up to $50. Meanwhile, the vaccine can cost as much as $20 and the median income for a family in Tanzania is $250. So, having to pay for the fine or the vaccine for even a single animal is almost out of the question for most Tanzanians, and there were always many people lined up to have their animal vaccinated by us for free.
Another vaccine we provided was canine distemper, a virus that can be transmitted to big cat populations and is almost always fatal when it does. Preventing canine distemper in the dogs helps maintain the health of lions, tigers, cheetahs, and the overall population of African big cats.
Along with the vaccines, we also provided spay and neuter surgeries for dogs and cats under the supervision of our professors.
This was a great experience for our veterinary education, and also a lesson in the cultural differences in the human-animal relationships in Tanzania and the United States.
A moment that made the difference clear to me was when a man brought in his medium-sized male dog, but was unable to restrain him for vaccines and sedation for surgery. The owner was nearly bitten and decided that his dog was not going to be up for a procedure that day.
The dogs we treated were rarely companion animals, but rather working animals for the Tanzanian people. They were used for home protection, to help prevent livestock from being stolen, and for bush hunting, which for people in some areas is a primary source of food.
Since they were not companion dogs, they were not used to being handled like dogs we treat here in the States. Challenges in restraining the patients were just part of the adventure, though.
In total, we provided about 110 surgeries and 500 vaccinations during our trip.
The first few days of the trip we managed to get five to seven surgeries done each day. On the last day, we did 16 despite the fact that we ran into some major obstacles with obtaining and administering anesthesia. It was pretty amazing to see that our skills had improved to where each surgery took half the time they had the previous week.
Leaving Africa, we all knew that we had learned invaluable skills and grown a better appreciation for the difficulties that other areas of the world face that are so different from our own.
We all believe that this program does a lot of good for the students, as well as the Tanzanian people in the towns we visited. We hope that it can continue so future students can share in similar experiences and benefit the health of people and animals in Tanzania.
Jonathan Powers is a third-year veterinary student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine.
To read a day-by-day report from Jon and his fellow vet students about their trip, please see the original trip report here.
Jon Powers and the veterinary students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine were supported with a donation of spay/neuter packs and other supplies by Henry Schein Animal Health.