Restoring Animal Health In Afghanistan: David Sherman, DVM

By late morning, when David Sherman, DVM, arrived at the veterinary field office in a remote part of Afghanistan, a crowd was waiting.

At least 20 farmers had come from the surrounding countryside to see the paraveterinarian, a specially trained Afghan who had been set up in a spartan but modern clinic by the group Dr. Sherman works for.

The farmers quickly organized.

Soon, working together, they’d mapped out a schedule based on who needed a farm visit to have an animal vaccinated or diagnosed, or who could be sent away with medicine—a crucial plan, since this paraveterinarian was the only source of veterinary help for miles in any direction.

Sherman was delighted:

Here was proof that the multi-national effort he worked with to restore veterinary services to Afghanistan was succeeding.

“This is an agrarian culture that depends on livestock for its existence,” says Sherman, a Massachusetts veterinarian who is an international expert on goat health.

As much as 70 percent of the Afghan population earns a living from animals, at least in part.

But by the early part of this decade, years of war, the 1994 Taliban takeover and the fallout from Sept. 11 had decimated the country’s veterinary network, and disease was spreading among goats, chickens, cattle and other essential animals.

Expediting the Training Process

Sherman, who first worked in Afghanistan in 1991, spent 2004 to 2006 as a program director for the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan, which has been working in the country for 20 years. During that phase, through a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, he helped set up a community-based veterinary network.

But training veterinarians takes years, and Afghanistan needed help immediately.

So qualified Afghans were placed in a 22-week paraveterinary training program in which they learned to identify and treat the 15 diseases responsible for up to 90 percent of animal loss, Sherman says.

Graduates were then set up in a clinic with instruments, a solar refrigerator to store vaccines and a motorbike so they could visit far-flung clients. So that the clinics would become self-sustaining, the new paraveterinarians were not paid a salary but were taught to charge fair prices for their services and medicines.

“We wanted to rebuild the infrastructure,” Sherman says. “We’ve created a fee-for-service model, and as long as the clinic provides quality service, it can go on forever. It doesn’t require a donor to underwrite the cost of vaccines.”

More than 400 clinics were operating all over the country by July 2006, when Sherman returned to Massachusetts. There he co-wrote the second edition of his textbook on goat health. Sherman also wrote “Tending Animals in the Global Village,” a guide for students and veterinarians that was inspired by his international work.

He returned to Afghanistan on May 1 for another year to help manage follow-up efforts.

Priority No. 1: Awareness

There are still many needs, says Dr. Wim Tondeur, a Dutch veterinarian also working for the Dutch committee, who this spring completed a survey of the veterinary field units to identify needs.

“The first activity and priority is to work more on farmers’ awareness in veterinary service advantages,” Tondeur says.

“Still, many farmers do not know the difference between a vaccination and a medication. Many farmers are not willing to pay for castration and pregnancy testing. [They think,] ‘What for? There were no medicines given.’ ”

Only an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of farmers now utilize the trained paraveterinarians, Tondeur says, and the program’s goal is to double that number.

Because the work is seasonal, Sherman says, workers hope to develop additional products, such as nutritional supplements, and services, such as artificial insemination and dairy herd management, that benefit farmers while also providing extra income to the paraveterinarians.

Making Do with Little

Other projects are even more ambitious, Sherman says.

These include working with goat farmers to improve the quality and quantity of cashmere and helping them market it, and helping farmers stem ongoing feed shortages, particularly in winter.

This work is especially challenging in a country that is still in the throes of rebuilding its economy and infrastructure, and where resources remain scarce.

For instance, during Sherman’s previous stay, a dog belonging to a colleague broke its leg. Because they focused on farm animals, Sherman’s team was unprepared to do small-animal orthopedic work.

“We improvised,” he says. “We went to the bazaar and found injectable Valium at a pharmacy, some PVC pipe at a plumbing supply and some disposable diapers at a grocery store. We sedated the dog with Valium, reduced the fracture, padded it with diapers, splinted it with PVC pipe and taped it with adhesive tape.”

The dog recovered nicely.

But working where people have learned to do a lot with very little, has also been inspiring.

Beyond the successes of the program, Sherman is inspired by other encouraging signs. When he returned to Kabul this spring, he found new additions to his neighborhood—several new wedding halls and a couple of new elementary schools.

Sherman wrote in an e-mail from Afghanistan in mid-May, “Commitments to love and learning are pretty good indicators that people are feeling reasonably optimistic about the future.” <HOME>


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