International Programs

Fiona Whitton

Sabana Grande, Nicaragua

I spent the summer in Nicaragua piloting a One Health project. Accompanied by 4 classmates, one public health student and one advisor, we spent three weeks in Nicaragua developing a veterinary component to a previously established medical program in Sabana Grande, a small rural community.  We’d spent months planning, procuring funding, and preparing ourselves to create a program that was effective, sustainable and culturally sensitive.

We spent the first week in Managua and Leon, the two main urban centers of the country. We visited veterinary schools where we interviewed both students and professors about the state of the veterinary industry, and the challenges they face in the profession, both educationally and in practice. We also met with public health officials to gain an understanding of the human and animal health programs instituted by the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Education, and learned how we can supplement and improve their programs, ensuring that our work be aligned with the state. Then, wanting to get the perspective of as many veterinary professionals and health workers as possible, we visited private veterinary practices and chatted with practicing clinicians about the most common animal health issues they see and their perspective on the most pressing issues facing Nicaraguan veterinarians.

While in Leon, we stayed with students from the UC Davis School of Medicine who were in Nicaragua participating in the MEDICOS program, which exposes medical students to health care practices in developing nations. We spent our evenings participating in rounds with the med students and their faculty mentor, and learned about the common illnesses seen in the human community. Unsurprisingly, we found that there was a significant amount of overlap with the issues we see in veterinary medicine, and we were able to begin discussions about creating an integrative health program that will incorporate both human and animal medicine.

Once we felt we had a grasp on the status of veterinary services in Nicaragua, we headed north to Sabana Grande, a small rural village near the Honduran border. Here, we met with Susan Kinne, an American expatriate who has been living and working in Sabana Grande for the past 20 years. Her work, through the non-profit organization Grupo Fenix, has primarily been in sustainable energy and small business solutions, but she was eager to partner with us and begin assessing the health of the community and their animals, with the hope of creating a sustainable, community based program to improve access to healthcare.

We spent the next two weeks integrating into the community. We lived with local families, surveyed households, visited medical clinics, practiced rural bovine medicine, and interviewed medical and veterinary professionals from surrounding areas. Our surveys helped us assess the relationship the people have with their animals, how the attitude towards animals varies across species, and what kind of veterinary services are desired by the community. We found that cows and poultry are the most economically important species, that access to veterinary care is limited, and that even if services are available, they are not financially attainable for the majority of the households. We also found that there is a deep understanding throughout the community of the interconnectedness of the health of the humans, animals and the environment, reinforcing our idea that an interdisciplinary, One Health, approach is the most applicable and sustainable method to international development work.

I had an incredible experience developing this project, but the most impactful part was undeniably getting to know the Nicaraguan people and their culture, and witnessing their daily lives, struggles and deep love for their communities and for their country. I was lucky enough to get the chance to stay in Nicaragua for an extra month, participate in other veterinary programs and meet many, many people in the local veterinary profession who I now consider to be both colleagues and friends.  As we move forward with this project, we are planning on implementing both educational workshops and clinical programs that will incorporate both human and animal medicine, and highlight the importance of the environment and surrounding resources. I’m looking forward to returning, and am sure that both this project and my travel experience have been integral in shaping my future.

Photo: Brostoff Images  Photo: Brostoff Images  Photo: Brostoff Images