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March 7, 2010

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Vet teams help Haiti

AS the multi-agency relief effort helping to rebuild Haiti after the devastating January 12 earthquake continues, the plight of animals in ravaged towns and villages is also receiving international attention.

The Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH) was formed soon after the quake and landed a team of experts within days in Port-au-Prince to provide immediate medical aid to stricken animals.

The coalition was formed by more than 20 of the world's leading animal welfare groups and is jointly led by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Teams continue to treat injured and sick pets and farm animals with antibiotics and de-worming medicine and are also providing anthrax and rabies vaccination.

Up to last week, a fully-equipped veterinary mobile clinic had treated over 4,000 animals.

According to the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, there is an estimated 5 million head of livestock in the country (not including poultry), and approximately 500,000 dogs living in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Veterinarian teams hired by ARCH were overwhelmed by the need for animal treatment when they arrived in the ravaged land.

On the first day of work in mid-February, they treated 189 animals at Lilavois in Port-au-Prince, mainly dogs and goats, but also pigs, chickens, cows, ducks and cats. They focused on deworming, vaccination and vitamin supplies.

"People were coming from everywhere, bringing their animals. It's clear that a lot of these animals had never been treated by vets before," said Gerardo Huertas, ARCH Incident Commander.

The team later moved a temporary clinic to the town of Leogane.

"We set up camp under the trees, surrounded by a half-fallen house, a bush full of thorns, a few banana trees and a big mango tree facing a dusty road," said Huertas.

"A man with a bike and a loudspeaker went around the village announcing our arrival and urging people to bring their animals.

"The first wave of goats soon arrived, followed by pigs, cattle, dogs, more goats and some of the wildest cats on earth.

"Our team got busy administering anthrax and rabies vaccines, vitamins and specific treatments for specific cases."

But when everybody returned from praying after noon, there was such a huge influx of people the team could not cope, he said.

Ten-year-old Kenny brought his dog Vito, who had an infection. "It has been sick for a long time, but I don't know any vets and don't have any money to take it to one," said Kenny.

"We gave the dog antibiotics and vitamins, and we'll come back to check its progress," said Huertas.

"Now we've got the mobile clinic, we can have two lines of people waiting: one outside for dogs, aggressive animals and farm animals, and one inside for cats and wounded animals."

ARCH this week announced a US$1.1 million agreement with the Haitian government aimed at improving long-term animal welfare conditions and repairing the country's damaged veterinary capacity.

"Our goal is to reach millions of animals in need and have a long-lasting impact for the people of Haiti," said Ian Robinson, IFAW's Director of Emergency Relief.

"Cooperating as a group of NGOs gives us a unique opportunity to address public and animal health concerns, across the entire country."

The ambitious program of work outlined in the agreement includes an epidemiology network, training of Haitian veterinarians and veterinary health workers, effective vaccination campaigns, and animal population studies.


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