A veterinary outreach programme in Nad 'Ali is one of a growing number conducted by the Royal Army Veterinary Corps designed to help farmers and livestock owners living in the remote corners of Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Run and organised by the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah, it is an opportunity for villagers to bring their sick animals to see a vet who can diagnose illnesses and provide treatment.
Up to 80 per cent of the people of Helmand rely on livestock in one way or another and it is therefore critical that the animals are maintained and kept healthy. In the long run it is important that the skills of proper animal husbandry are passed on to the local people so they can ensure their own future.
One farmer who is waiting for his huge black and white cow to be examined has travelled for an hour to reach the market:
The roads are much safer now, before there were lots of roadside bombs. I would like to be taught how to look after my animals properly, it would help my family,” he said.
A new programme designed to educate the farmers in basic care techniques is the Veterinary Teaching Initiative, which seeks to promote a long term solution.
Topics such as care of new-borns, milking, housing and nutrition are covered in a two-hour lesson which encourages question and answer interaction.
These meetings are vital for a transition of reliance upon ISAF vets to the new para-vets, local men who are sent on six-month training courses and are, as a result, able to provide good animal healthcare. Once the para-vets have received their basic training, they are supported by Non-Governmental Organisations who provide financial assistance and a local veterinary practice in which they can work.
In just one day over 300 animals have been checked over and treated, but it is certain that more will be brought next time. The success and impact of these engagements is easy to underestimate, but in a province which depends so heavily on livestock, availability of veterinary care is vital for the future of the economy and its people.