The Impact of a Simple Vaccination: Volunteering in Uganda

Post by

emily king

August 24th 2018

Alice recently joined our pilot vaccination campaign in Kasese, Uganda. This is her story:

This was my first visit to Africa and my first Mission Rabies project - I’m now in love with both of them!

I turn 30 this year so I had wanted to do a big trip; I’d been keeping an eye on possible Mission Rabies projects for a while and when this trip to Kasese, Uganda came up I leapt at it!

I was very unwell as a teenager, so had to leave education early. I’ve now gone back to studying and will be taking my GCSEs next year! Eventually, my aim is to apply to study veterinary medicine; I have a particular interest in One Health (the theory that human, animal and environmental/ecological health are all interconnected) and epidemiology so Mission Rabies is a charity that is close to my heart.

I decided to go out to Uganda a couple of days before the project started to get to know the country a little before diving in at the deep end - this turned out to be a brilliant idea as my suitcase didn’t join me on my connecting flight in Dubai.

Thanks to the wonderful staff at Entebbe airport I was reunited with my bag before the project started so the disaster was averted!  After spending the night in a lovely small guesthouse in Entebbe we drove the (long and bumpy!) road to Kasese. I spent the entire journey looking out of the window and it was a fantastic opportunity to see all that Uganda has to offer.

Our accommodation was actually in Queen Elizabeth National Park; we had a safari on our commute to and from Kasese every day which was amazing!  The owner of the lodge, Pascal, and his team did a fantastic job taking care of us and it was a magical place to stay.

After a day of meeting our Ugandan colleagues and having our safety briefings it was time to get started! The time was 04:45 so it was an early start but meant we could be in Kasese for 7am. It sounds grim but it wasn’t at all - it meant we were starting work before 9am at the latest and we got to see the sun rise every day which was beautiful.

The first two days of the project were ‘static point’ vaccination clinics. The first day we were up in a mountain village; if the road had been good it would have taken 5 minutes from Kasese but it took us 30 minutes, giving an idea of the challenges people here face daily. Soon after we had set up, people began arriving with their dogs; one man had walked 20km to get his dog vaccinated. We quickly gained an audience of children who watched us intently all day - apparently we were very entertaining. Most of the dogs were underweight but generally in excellent health; some of the puppies had flea anaemia so we advised the owners to wash the puppy in soap and water to reduce the flea burden. Flea powders are available in Uganda but affordability and accessibility are the primary barriers (this is for almost all goods and services, not just animal care). Our second static point clinic was down in Kasese and we were kept very busy with an almost constant stream of dogs (and very angry cats) for vaccination. Dogs were mostly brought on foot but sometimes by truck or on the back of a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi).

The rest of the project was dedicated to door-to-door vaccination; we were literally going to every house in our assigned area to vaccinate any dogs we found and record the details of any dogs already vaccinated. This was important to judge the success of the static point clinics and assess what barriers there might be to people attending a static point. My job was to collect this data using the WVS App, aided by a Ugandan vet, Dr Kalule, who acted as translator and assessed the health of the dogs prior to vaccination and offered owners advice on caring for their dogs as well as treating any minor injuries or illnesses they might have.

One of the most memorable cases was when we were in a market square in Kasese and an elderly man cycled up to us with a cardboard box tied to the back of his bicycle. Having learnt by this point that cardboard boxes secured with string usually contained a very angry cat we quizzed him on what was in the box. Having been assured it was a dog we asked him to get it out so we could vaccinate it. Out came a tiny, emaciated, terrified puppy, approximately 12 weeks old. We vaccinated her and as I was collecting the owner’s details I asked Dr Kalule to emphasise that the puppy needed more food as she was very thin. The man took a huge (almost football-sized) bag of tiny dried fish out of a bag on his bicycle and beamed at me. He had just purchased the puppy, knew she was very thin and had bought the fish just for her. It is clear that all over the world, people care about their dogs.

The next day of door-to-door calls was further up in the mountains, a complete contrast to the day before when we were in the bustle of Kasese city. The final two days was also door-to-door vaccination work and it saw us walk large distances in very diverse areas but we got to meet some wonderful people, who welcomed us into their homes and were very proud of their animals.

We all worked very hard on this project, but we had the most amazing time. I learnt so much about the charity, the practicalities of working in a challenging environment, the challenges faced by local veterinary staff and the potential impact of an intervention as simple as a vaccination. It was a truly wonderful experience!

 If you want an adventure that will truly help save lives, take a look at our projects currently looking for volunteers!!