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  • Writer's pictureFanny

The largest dog vaccination campaign in Cambodia ever

I arrived on May 20th in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and the air is hot & sticky – it feels pretty much like Singapore 😉

At the airport, I’m met by 2 of the Mission Rabies staff and other volunteers. They were expecting over 60 international volunteers from all over the world landing during the day. I’m excited!

This mission was special and one of a kind because the goal was huge: vaccinate 100’000 dogs against rabies around the entire Phnom Penh province during the two weeks of the campaign. It’s no small feat, to date most of Mission Rabies campaigns conducted in other countries target a few thousands dogs usually. You can read more about this big endeavour and its context in the article published in the Telegraph in May 2023.

The goal was huge: vaccinate 100’000 dogs against rabies around the entire Phnom Penh province in 2 weeks

How are we going to make it happen?

What I love about Mission Rabies is how determined and laser-focused they are on their aim: eliminate dog-mediated rabies by 2030, as per the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3.3). I’m not surprised when I heard that the team has been planning this campaign for months and has partnered with key local stakeholders on the ground to make it a success:

  • the local government, i.e. General Directorate of Animal Health and Production (GDAHP)

  • Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC)

  • The faculty of veterinary medicine - RUA

  • National Institute of Agriculture Prek Leap (website)

  • Animal Rescue Cambodia, the leading NGO creating sustainable animal welfare in Cambodia, improving the quality of veterinary care and running spay & neuter campaigns

  • Phnom Penh animal welfare society (PPAWS), a full vet service clinic that focus on improving the well being of the many abandoned and stray cats and dogs specifically in Phnom Penh

Sunday was the briefing day before we head out to the field on Monday morning. All international volunteers, Mission Rabies staff, together with additional staff from Worldwide vet services and volunteers from Dog Trust Worldwide were present in the room. We were a few hundred and the excitement (and the heat) was palpable.

Amy – the project lead from Mission Rabies - took us through all the important aspects we needed to be aware of: from the disease epidemiology in Cambodia itself, to how each day will unfold and our team assignment & team leaders. This campaign differed from the one in Uganda in that it was “Door-to-Door” and not a “Static Vaccination Point”. This meant we would be moving during the day and did not expect people to come to us with their dogs, instead we would go to them. This made sense because we were in a more urban, densely populated environment than the Kisoro district of Uganda.

To maximize our efforts, each team (abbreviated NUVA) consisted of only 2 persons:

1 international volunteer and 1 local/Khmer volunteer. Each NUVA had a designated tuk-tuk and driver for the entire campaign duration. In addition, 2 NUVA were assigned the same geographical area to divide and conquer (so basically each team took one side of the road) and was accompanied by a Sensitization Officer.

This role was new and important for efficiency purposes: the Sensitization Officer, a local volunteer, walked ahead of the NUVAs to inform the local residents of the campaign happening and identify households with dogs. S/he distributed the flyer in Khmer language explaining what is rabies, how to prevent dog bites and what to do if bitten. So when we arrived to each “house”, the people would usually be awaiting us and already holding their dog. Awesome!

Apart from the fact we were on the move constantly, the rest of our daily tasks were similar to what we did in Uganda (link to article).

The days were long and intense: the alarm clock rang each day at 5.40am, breakfast was at 6.00am and by 6.30am we were in the bus bringing us to the hub where materials and vaccines were stored. Upon collecting our materials, we would set out in the field by 7.30am, driving to the outskirts of Phnom Penh to our assigned area and “off we go”.

Most days lasted til 5-5.30pm. That’s over 8-9 hours outdoor by 36 Celsius degrees. Trust me, I’ve never drank so much water each day to keep hydrated! Luckily we were met by friendly people/dog owners who often offered us a bottle of ice cold water or brought plastic chairs for us to seat. I was touched and grateful for the kindness and cooperation of the local community during this campaign.

Check out some pictures from this year’s mission:

What did we achieve?

After week 1, we collectively vaccinated 36’719 dogs. This is how it looks in terms of data points:

Data collection is particularly important because it helps in refining locations for the second week (identify pockets where additional field vaccination is required, if 70% has not been reached yet). It also gives statistics about the local dog population, i.e. gender, adult /juvenile / puppy ratio, disease status (if visibly apparent) etc.

After week 2, a total of 74’872 dogs has been vaccinated! This is an outstanding results, keeping in mind that it was the first time Mission Rabies operationalized such a huge campaign with a lot of uncertainties. Thanks to the collective effort of over 300 volunteers and Mission Rabies and its partners impeccable planning, the communities of Phnom Penh are protected from this deadly disease.

Volunteers posing for a photo
The 12 Turtles teams (only a subset of the entire volunteers)

A particular note of appreciation to those who donated to the fundraiser I organized on behalf of Mission Rabies – you are awesome and contributed to this success!

I am now traveling across Cambodia as my visa is valid for 30 days. I’m taking it slow, enjoying each area for a bit while studying for my One Health module on Non-Communicable Diseases.

I’ll arrive in Europe early July to meet with friends and family – drop me a line if you’re around Geneva/Zurich this summer.

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