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Building Veterinary Capacity in Haiti

This past winter, I went to Haiti under the auspices of the Christian Veterinary Mission. (Yes, I realize that that might seem odd, but they are doing great work there, and were quite respectful of my non-Christian status. There is an enormous number of missionaries keeping certain parts of the safety net afloat. It's not a sustainable model, but it is going to be needed for decades.)

It's hardly news that Haiti is in a world of hurt. They were in bad shape before the earthquake of 2010--but largely ignored--and then another insult arrived in October 2016 in the form of Hurricane Matthew. Obviously, one could write pages about the challenges facing Haiti, but there's plenty of that available everywhere.

There are no veterinary schools in Haiti. There are a handful of Cuban-trained veterinarians, but the field is vastly understaffed. This causes gaps in animal health and production, as well as increasing the dangers of zoonotic disease.

The CVM is working to remedy this gap by training "veterinary agents." They have built a small school, and a small group of young adults from around the country comes monthly to learn veterinary skills. I was helping to teach surgery. There are a large number of goats, and gastrointestinal and birthing problems, correctable by surgery, are often indicated. Using goats that were donated to families by the CVM, we taught two procedures: the rumenotomy, which is opening of the first compartment of the four-chambered ruminant "stomach", and cesarean sections, to assist does (female goats) who are having problems with parturition (birthing).

Rumenotomies are rarely performed here in the US. However, because proper garbage disposal and recycling programs don't exist in most of Haiti, ithe ingestion of plastic bags by browsing goats is quite common. The presence of this foreign material in the rumen (the first chamber) often causes complete or total obstruction of the GI tract, leading to poor growth or fatality. In fact, of the 10 goats that we operated on, 8 of them had plastic bags in their rumens.

PAZ hopes to partner with the CVM again in the future. While I was in the airport, I spoke with some medical volunteers from Maine who were heading to the northern part of the country. I asked about cysticercosis--larval tapeworm infestation--which is one of the diseases that we deal with in Peru. Yes, it is present, including the neurological form wherein the larvae encyst in the brain. We hope to be able to follow up on this in the future.

These goats are recovering from surgery. You'll notice the purple stripes. This is from the insecticidal spray that gets liberally dosed over the incision area. Screwworms (Cochliomyia hominivorax) are common in Haiti. Unlike maggots, which eat only dead flesh, screwworm larvae will eat away at living tissue. (They have been eradicated in the United States. A small infestation of Key Deer was found in Florida, though, last year.)

They're not dead-they're recovering from surgery!

The classroom, replete with eager students.

Our surgery "suites". Operating outside.

Chlorpyrifos spray, mixed with the Gentian Violet that gives it that bright purple color. Interestingly, there was movement to ban this substance in the US, given its toxicity, especially to infants and children. The new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has decided, however, to deny the ban.

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