Two intrepid members of the nursing team at Davies Veterinary Specialists in Hertfordshire have returned from the trip of a lifetime to help combat rabies in India.

Each year, Davies Veterinary Specialists helps fund pairs of volunteers to and support the charity Mission Rabies, of which Ian Battersby, an Internal Medicine clinician at Davies, is a Trustee.

98% of rabies cases in humans are a consequence of dog bites from rabid dogs. Mission Rabies works in parts of India, Malawi and Uganda and Sri Lanka, using local teams and international volunteers. The aim is to vaccinate 70% of street dogs for three consecutive years. Current scientific evidence indicates if this is achieved the disease will be eliminated from an area.

Last year, Laura Barham RVN and Emily Prejac RVN (pictured right) were chosen by Davies to help vaccinate dogs in Goa. 

Laura is a Patient Care Supervisor at Davies, helping to supervise the nurses and kennel assistants in the wards to make sure all patients receive the best possible care. Emily is a Nurse Supervisor for Diagnostics and coordinates the cases, the nurses and the order of procedures through the diagnostics area. 

Although Davies funded their flights, Laura and Emily had to raise £2000 of extra funds, which they did by running sponsored dog walks and holding bake sales, raffles and competitions. Emily also ran the London Marathon in a bright yellow Mission Rabies vest.

Working in India for two weeks was a stark contrast to Laura and Emily's normal jobs. Laura described a typical day in Goa: "The volunteers were divided into six teams, each with a team of Goan dog-catchers, referred to as ‘the boys’ and a driver.

"We would meet at 6.30am have a quick cup of sweet chai and then get going in the trucks.  Each team was given a phone with a Mission Rabies app and was allocated colour-coded areas to cover, which could be anything from beaches and wealthy residential areas to building sites, schools, markets, factories, highways, fields and slums.

"The skilled boys would catch street dogs using nets and then we would vaccinate them and paint a red line on the top of their heads. This enables them to be counted easily when the surveyor checks an area after it has been done. We also knocked on house doors to ask owners if they would like their pet dogs vaccinated.

"There was a mix of languages spoken, including Hindi, English and Konkani (the local Goan language), so having the boys and driver help with communication was essential. Every vaccinated dog was logged on the app. Once an area had been completed a new team would cover the circuit to vaccinate any dogs that may have eluded being caught the first time. The morning stint lasted until lunchtime and we would get to work again between 3pm and 6pm."

More than 5,000 dogs were vaccinated during the two weeks Laura and Emily were in Goa and over the four weeks of the mass vaccination drive more than 10,000 dogs were vaccinated.

Laura said: "This is the first time I have volunteered to work on a project and I can’t believe I have never done it before especially as it is a privilege to be able to use my nursing skills to help. I can honestly say it is the best experience I have ever had and I am proud to have been a small part of the great work that Mission Rabies does. I would most definitely do it again and recommend to anyone else to do it too."

Emily said: "I really do feel like I have been part of something amazing, even with just the small contribution I made in the two weeks of being there. It was great to see first hand the incredible work Mission Rabies is doing and the effect it is having. I am so pleased I had the opportunity to take part and also use my skills as a nurse to help in this way. I would definitely like to do it again and would urge anyone considering volunteering to go for it, they won’t regret it."