Haitian Vet Agent Training in the Artibonite Valley

     Our team traveled from Port-au-Prince to the Artibonite Valley  to do two, two-day trainings with two groups of 11 vet agents.  Dr Kelly, our team leader and creole translator, has been living and serving in Haiti since 2006.  Dr. Lisa is a small animal vet.  Ally is completing her final year of veterinary school and is here in Haiti with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  There are currently no veterinary schools in Haiti.  Despite the presence of multiple schools on the island in the neighboring Dominican Republic, Haitians do not attend these schools as there are long standing animosities and discrimination between these neighboring nations.  At one point, Haiti sent three groups of 25 to veterinary school in Cuba (a 5 year European style program).  Graduates had a three year commitment to Haiti.  Many left Haiti after completing the required service in search of greener pastures.  Much of the available veterinary care is provided by vet agents. These paraprofessionals have had some training by veterinarians along with varying amounts of field experience.  We had the opportunity to work with 22 of these individuals to offer additional training in topics that they requested or identified as needs.  Together we had the chance to cover vaccinations and immunology, infectious diseases, castration and spay techniques, iv injection techniques, dentistry, rabies and rabies vaccine clinics, reproduction, and obstetrics.

     Several of the vet agents personally knew people who had died of rabies.  The domestic dog population is the reservoir of infection in Haiti rather than wildlife.  Research is beginning to suggest the prevalence is very high.  Many other domestic animals and people   become exposed.  Knowledge of proper medical care is alarmingly poor.  Hospitals may give tetanus booster and antibiotic shot giving people the impression they have received the needed "shot" and not communicate the need for rabies protection.  How many of us take this preventable disease for granted here?  Yet, it is all the efforts that do go into domestic animal vaccination that keep it from becoming a bigger problem.

     Cattle, goats, horses, mules, donkeys, pigs, dogs, and cats were all seen as part of our training clinics.  The equine population is relied on heavily for pack work.  Many of these animals spend long hours working and obviously find it challenging to meet calorie needs from the available grazing in there time off.   Much labor is done by people themselves.  Trucks are always greatly loaded with both people and goods.  Goats and chicken, and eggs are major protein sources.  Vaccination of chickens against New Castle disease is also one of the duties of the vet agents along with vaccines against diseases I mentioned in the last post. Vaccines must be kept chilled without refrigeration.  More of the chicken eaten in the country is American chicken drumsticks rather than Haitian grown chicken which is more costly.  Similarly, subsidized white american rice is cheaper than haitian rice grown locally.    

     Charye, the village where we stayed, has no electricity except that provided by generator or solar for a few.  Water is available at specific locations approximately each half mile or so in the village for two hours twice daily (as long as the valve man in the mountain remembers to turn the valve.)  Cooking is done on locally made charcoal.  Charcoal production and lumber needs have left much of the mountains we saw heavily deforested.  Rice, white sweet potatoes, bananas, plantains, and shell beans, ground corn, and millet are important foods.  In the city, fresh mangoes, are one of my personal favorites. 

     Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  The material poverty is profound to those of us from the opposite end of the material spectrum.  History, abusive dictatorship followed by a less than stable government, lack of investment and trade, corruption, poverty, disease, and hunger have left Haiti with great needs.  Relationships are very important to Haitians.  Like many areas outside of north america and western europe, relationships are more important than a set schedule, and there is more attention to the group than the individuals.

      Even though our material possessions and conveniences may differ greatly, we all find ourselves facing our own forms of stresses within our homes, work, and culture.  Ultimately, how we steward the world around us, our relationships with each other, and our faith is what we will each have in the end.