AGA IN ACTION
"Dogs of War": Animal Health Clubs champion rabies prevention to protect livelihoods and lives in Sierra Leone
Animal Health Clubs are Protecting Livelihoods, food security and lives
Since their establishment, Animal Health Clubs have not limited themselves to disease awareness alone. On the initiative of university mentors and club members themselves, the clubs have extended their role beyond that originally envisaged to developing regulations and bylaws, conducting public health and disease prevention awareness. This consists of encouraging and providing advice on improving community facilities, such as newly-constructed animal shelters (animals and people previously shared the same houses); sanitary facilities, including pit latrines and outdoor bathrooms. These first steps are complemented with the collection of manure and refuse along with composting practices leading to producing natural fertilizers and improving the soil and crop yields. As these improvements are undertaken with locally sourced materials, they are self-sustainable.
Joseph Kaillie is a farmer from Bonganema with some crops and a few animals. He lives with his wife and fifteen children. He came to know about rabies when he saw a child bitten by a rabid dog, who then died. Joseph also heard about the disease on the radio and from Animal Health Club members who visited him several times. Club members also talked to Joseph about animal regulations, animal rearing, disease control and improved management and registration of animals. Joseph says “I’ve learned a lot from the Animal Health Club visitors, and the information has been very useful. As a result I know more about disease caused by dogs and the care we should take with our animals. I’ve called all my people to tell them that we must work with the clubs to introduce new laws, follow the laws properly, and treat our animals on a regular basis, so that we can protect our families, our animals, and our livelihoods.”
James Kpandeyange is another farmer, from Mosongo. He is 50-years-old and lives with his wife, five children, and their goats and chickens. Tragically James learned of rabies in the hardest possible way: his six-year-old son was bitten by a dog and as there was no way of treating him, his son died. James wants to ensure that no other parent suffers the same needless tragedy “The Animal Health Clubs are a good idea. They told us about proper management of our animals, and the importance of registering our dogs, goats and sheep. One idea was to keep our animals tied up: all animal owners have now tied their animals and there is now control in the village. Not only does this help to prevent disease, but it stops goats, for example, from eating our crops, so making sure we have something to eat. We must practice what we have learned and pass it on to others.”
In Mokonde village, Mohamed Yaraba Bah is also familiar with rabies and its impact. Mr Bah and his wife are looking after their family and their farm, where they keep goats and sheep. “A dog bit the child of my neighbour and as there was no medicine the child died. Rabies is a serious problem in my village: dogs frequently bite small children, who then die because there are no drugs”.
Bah continues “It’s for this reason that we welcome the Animal Health Clubs. They are good for all my family. They came to my house and talked to us about the need for us all to work together to take good care of our animals: to register them, construct shelters for them and properly manage them to prevent them passing on diseases to us. The clubs also help us to improve manure collection and composting practices, and to use the compost to make the soil more fertile.”
Funding permitting, the clubs are committed to developing a community animal health worker training programme, with a view to progressive upgrading of the training institution to a Veterinary Faculty. This will hopefully encourage and mobilize young people to pursue careers in animal health and production-related fields, thereby easing the chronic deficiencies in veterinary services.
What began as one man’s personal fight against a lethal disease, and its severe impact upon animal and human health, livelihoods and food security, has led to a longer-term commitment to sensitize school pupils, students and communities on veterinary public health issues, promote interest and knowledge of animal health, husbandry and welfare practices, and develop an integrated approach to human, animal and environmental health.
FAO is committed to encouraging and supporting the Animal Health Club initiative and request additional donor support. Such support will improve the way farmers deal with animals, help to prevent disease, and develop the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers and peri-urban/urban animal-keepers: “The Animal Health Clubs have united our village, helped us to support ourselves, and after the years of tragedy have given us hope that we had not believed possible” (Mokondo farmer, Sierra Leone).