University of Melbourne Magazine

Class in in for dog health

  • Aashima Auplish speaking to school students in Sikkim.

    Aashima Auplish speaking to school students in Sikkim.

    A team of students is working to improve public health and animal welfare in Sikkim, in the Himalayan foothills.

    Developed and delivered in collaboration with Australian-based Vets Beyond Borders (VBB), the pilot project, which built on the highly successful Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health Program (SARAH), was funded through a University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor’s Engagement Grant.

    Far from the expected classroom sizes of around 30 pupils, team member and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student Aashima Auplish says many of the participating schools had several hundred students in each session. In just two weeks the project reached an audience of more than 8700 people. The focus was on identifying dog behaviour, rabies treatment and identification, and rabies prevention – followed up with a section on general dog health and wellbeing, and how these approaches impact on individuals and pet owners.

    The project team – Aashima Auplish, Alison Clarke, Trent Van Zanten and project leader Dr Kate Abel – worked on developing content for around eight
    months. The material included slide show handouts, skits, inflatable dogs and a number of pre-prepared videos.

    Dr Charmaine Tham, President of VBB, says the SARAH project offered a great opportunity to explore the inclusion of an education program across the organisation’s work in other countries. “The SARAH project was established in 2006 and is very much a collaborative effort between VBB, our funding body, Fondation Brigitte Bardot in France, and the local Sikkim government to run these animal health, desexing and vaccination programs, mainly to reduce rabies,” Dr Tham says. “The challenge for volunteers and staff across the world is to develop and deliver engaging education programs, which take into account factors like the language barrier or in-country limitations. The student team did a wonderful job of transcending these challenges and they created a very impressive program. The quality of work they delivered was outstanding.”

    Already the project has sparked interest from other organisations. Ms Auplish has recently completed an internship in Geneva with the World Health Organization, largely from connections made in Sikkim. “It’s important that we map the impact of our work,” she says. “NGOs and their funding bodies need solid evidence to support these programs, so we hope to illustrate that impact through the methods we used.”

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