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The role of community animal health workers in an efficient animal health management system

P.J. Horber

Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Switzerland, Worbalufenstrasse 178, CH-3048 Worblaufen, Switzerland


Veterinarians Without Borders Switzerland (VSF-CH) conducted, in 1999, an assessment of the Veterinary Services in the Autonomous Tibetan Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai, P.R. China. The goal of the mission was to evaluate the possibilities of a programme to support the animal health care services. The analysis indicates that the training and the activities of Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) need special attention. In large areas like the Himalayan highland, CAHWs make an important contribution to animal health care in the field. A strengthened animal health care programme can improve the economic situation of the rural population. Healthy animals have a good productivity and bear better the harsh highland winters.

Keywords: Community animal health workers (CAHWs), sheep, snow disaster, yak


Winter disasters

In 1996 and 1998, Qinghai Province, P.R. China, especially its Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, suffered extreme climatic conditions. The herdsmen lost a big part of their herds. About 1.5 million animals died in the area due to lack of fodder, large quantities of snow and extreme low temperatures. In spite of several programmes supported by governments, local and international organisations, the number of animals could not be restocked until spring of 1999. The economic situation of the rural population in the area is therefore still severe.

Chinese 4-set programme

In 1996, the Chinese Government initiated a development programme termed the '4-set programme' to try to assist farmers. The programme supports the construction of family houses and animal sheds, the fencing of selected areas as well as the improvement of grasslands. In spring 1999, already 2535% of the farmers had the whole set realised. The programme is ongoing. It represents an important step towards preventing future winter disasters.

Mission of VSF-CH

VSF-CH conducted an assessment of a future programme to support the veterinary services in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, from March 29th to May 2nd, 1999 (Horber 1999). The goal of the mission was to evaluate in which form herdsmen might be assisted to prevent future winter disasters. Special attention was given to the animal health care services. Animal productivity has to be increased in order to improve and assure the family income. Key issues are: good reproduction rate, low animal losses, and adequate weight gain of animals on grasslands. These can only be achieved if animals are healthy. Healthy animals not only have a better productivity, but also bear better the harsh highland winters.

The veterinary services in Yushu


The veterinary service has a good hierarchically organised structure (prefecture> county>township>village>small team). It consists of 74 veterinarians, 172 veterinary assistants, 820 village doctors and 6000 small team prevention doctors. The group of the village doctors and small team prevention doctors is called in this paper 'Community Animal Health Workers' (CAHWs). Veterinarians and assistants have a university or college degree, whereas CAHWs are mostly herdsmen with very basic animal health training. CAHWs are working successfully not only in China, but also in other countries like for instance in The Sudan (UNICEF/OLS 1997) and in the Republic of Santo Domingo (PROMESA 1998).

Problems of health management system

Community animal health workers

Qualification of CAHWs

CAHWs live closer to the rural population and the animals than veterinarians. In general they are highly respected villagers. That is why they may contribute efficiently to the animal health management system in spite of their limited literacy. Veterinarians have much better knowledge of animal health care but they are rarely able to reach sick animals in time (distance, communication and transportation facilities, costs).

Strong points of CAHWs

Weak points of CAHWs

Activities of CAHWs

Training and supervision of CAHWs

The official veterinary service is responsible for the training, the necessary refresher courses and the supervision of the activities of the CAHWs.

Appointment of CAHWs

CAHWs are appointed and paid by the rural population in Yushu. This approach is recommended also for other similar services. The confidence of the population in their village doctor probably is the key to the success of the health service.

Financing of the local health care service

The sustainability of an efficient local animal health care service depends also on its financing model. In earlier times the service was free of cost. In the future, the beneficiaries will have to pay the costs of the local animal health care service. However, the level of payments must take into account the income of farmers. It might be reasonable to establish a medicament revolving fund managed by the villagers. The introduction of a new economic model is delicate. The possibilities have to be discussed with the people. The application of the participatory rural appraisal (PRA) methodology might be helpful. The villagers have to take their own decisions and to fully carry the economic responsibility.

Conclusion and recommendations

In large areas with a low population density but an important livestock sector an efficient animal health care service is necessary. Only healthy animals have a good productivity and do bear the difficult climatic conditions on the Himalayan highlands.

CAHWs (village doctors and small team prevention doctors) are making an important contribution to animal health care in the field. They live close to the animals. Being themselves herdsmen, they know best the needs of their colleagues. The beneficiaries should pay the salary of the CAHWs and the local animal health care service, but prices must be realistic so that farmers can afford the service. CAHWs need to be trained and supervised by the veterinary officers. Each CAHW needs a kit with basic equipment (for example, syringe, needles, scissors) and 810 medicaments. The relevant instruction manuals have to be translated into the local language and, if necessary, illustrated.

Veterinarians are responsible for the implementation of the official animal health care management programme, especially the prevention of epizootic diseases. They train and supervise the CAHWs.

Careful purchase of medicaments, adequate medicament storage rooms, transportation and communication facilities for staff are important for a successful animal health care system.


Horber P. 1999. Support of veterinary services. Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Mission Report. VSF-CH, Switzerland. 21 pp.

PROMESA. 1998. Proyecto para el mejoramiento de la producción y la sanidad animal. Plan operativo-internal paper. HELVETAS, Switzerland/Republica Santa Domingo. 33 pp.

UNICEF/OLS (United Nations International Children Fund/Operation Lifeline Sudan). 1997. CAHW training manual for southern Sudan. UNICEF/OLS Operation Lifeline Sudan. 41 pp.

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