UK Clinical team visit the Gambia

IMV imaging Clinical team visit the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust (GHDT)

Gambian Diaries 

It was here in 2002 that the late Stella Marsden OBE and her sister Heather Armstrong set up the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust (GHDT). Created to improve the health, welfare and productivity of all Gambia’s animals, it provides essential veterinary services throughout the country. 

Before BCF technology became IMV imaging, we supported the charity through the donation of vital diagnostic imaging equipment, as well as through the support of fundraising events held in the UK and Europe. Indeed, the name BCF technology is still printed amongst other sponsors upon a slightly sand blasted sign at the entrance to the Charity’s main hospital in Makasutu. 

The charity is always seeking qualified vets to work with them; to help with patient care and treatment, perform surgical procedures, and educate the staff at their clinics. So, when the opportunity came for some of the vets within IMV to spend some time helping the charity, Clinical Teammates Amy Haylock, Harriet Rhodes and Sam Mauchlen jumped at the chance. 

Day 1 – Arrival 

It was with a slight sigh of relief that we made it through customs to be greeted by the GHDT’s resident volunteer, Emily. Between us, we had managed to stuff our suitcases with various donations; bandages and wound dressings, educational material from IMV imaging and the British Horse Society, dog leads, hoof picks, headcollars, and bits. Who knows what security thought when they saw a suitcase packed with metal bits, but it clearly did not alarm them. 

Making our way to our accommodation at the charity’s main hospital in Makasutu, two things struck us. One, just how friendly and welcoming the staff and locals were, and two, how hot Gambia is. Over 40 degrees most days, often with a haze of dust brought in on the harmattan, a Saharan wind. 

That night, sleep was elusive. This was mainly due to the cacophony of horses, donkeys, camels, cats and dogs that would neigh, bray, roar, yowl and bark through the night! 

Day 2 – Meet the patients 

On day 2 we toured the facilities and examined the patients in the hospital. The charity employs enthusiastic and hardworking paravets, who care for the patients and provide veterinary treatment to a wide range of species. 

There were many challenging cases, and a good number of patients that tested the depths of our memory of exotic and parasitic diseases from vet school. It certainly helped to have the three of us to bounce ideas around! 

In the afternoons the yard was invaded by the neighbourhood troop of baboons. They would maraud through the yard scavenging and screeching. We had been advised not to make eye contact with them. Apparently, they regard it as some kind of challenge. 

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Image 1. Harriet, Amy and Sam with some of the staff and patients at the Hospital in Makasutu. 

Day 3 – Can we fix it? Yes, we can! 

Taking the idea of a field service to a new level, today we went through the charity’s donated imaging equipment. Our initial prognosis for some of the equipment was very guarded. However, by the end of the day we found a working computer for the X-ray machine, two working ultrasound machines complete with rectal probes, and three endoscopes including a video endoscope! Amy even found the time to teach a local group of animal welfare students the ins and outs of performing a clinical examination of the horse.  

Throughout the trip, education was a permanent feature; us teaching the paravets clinical examinations, operating procedures and imaging techniques. The paravets and charity staff taught the locals animal care, and the paravets taught us about the plethora of diseases we never see in the UK and how to shave a patient for surgery using a scalpel blade! 

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Image 2. Putting some of the imaging equipment we repaired to good use. 

Day 4 – Epic clinics and epic X-rays 

Splitting up, Amy headed to the local town of Kembujeh to run a neutering and vaccination clinic. Harriet and Sam stayed at the hospital to perform x-rays on a variety of cases including a horse, donkey, sheep and dog. Midway through the x-rays a sick dog arrived which turned out to have trypanosomiasis. This is a blood-borne parasite that is spread by Tsetse flies and causes Sleeping Sickness in people. Encountering it on the trip was interesting, but also a little frightening. 

That evening saw us come back together only to be called out to some emergencies. There was a donkey that had choked on some food a few days earlier and severely damaged its oesophagus, and a donkey that had been wounded by a machete. Caring for both of these patients took us late into the night, and as we had not had time to eat before we left, we got some late-night takeaway, Gambian style. An experience in itself. 

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Image 3. Treating emergency patients. Passing a stomach tube to give a donkey fluids (left) and cleaning out a machete wound (right). 

Day 5 – Bugs and boats 

We awoke the next day more than a little tired and jumped in the pickup ready for the four hour road trip upriver to the charity’s original base in Sambel Kunda. 

That afternoon we got to head out on a boat to visit the River Gambia Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project. It was amazing to see some of local wildlife from the river – chimps, crocs, hippos, kingfishers and monkeys. Unfortunately, there also was an abundance of the aforementioned Tsetse flies. Less amazing. 

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Image 4 – The team enjoying the boat trip. 

Day 6 – A horse with no name 

The Sambel site is within a much more rural, less populated area. Inland, the weather is warmer and the facilities were more limited, with restricted electricity and water. 

We did the rounds of patients within the centre. The staff here had done an amazing job of caring for some really challenging cases including donkeys recovering from tetanus. 

We managed to fit in a variety of procedures, though a large part of the day was spent operating on a horse with an awful wound on her side. Being grey, we named her “Snow”. Fingers crossed she improves.  

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Image 5. Cleaning Snow’s wound. 


Day 7 – Going door to door 

We set off very early to cross the river to a town called Wassau, as we had been scheduled to run a neutering clinic there. However, in true African style, a communication breakdown meant no one had brought their pets to the clinic! 

No matter. If the dogs wouldn’t come to us, we would go to the dogs. We set off from compound to compound, neutering and vaccinating anything we found on the way (with permission of course). Clinics like this are an essential way of controlling the dog population and limiting the spread of fatal diseases, like rabies. 

Returning later that day, we were called to another emergency. This time it was a donkey with a severe tetanus infection. Driving to the donkey in the dark of the Gambian night whilst the local mosque broadcast lines from the Quran was certainly an experience, but this was one patient we could not save. 

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Image 6. Sam, Harriet and Emily, the Charity’s resident volunteer, with some of the people from Wassau. 

Day 8 – A tale of two travelers 

We spent the morning teaching the centre’s staff the examination approach to a wide variety of species. Then it was packing and starting the drive back to Makasutu. 

A common debate on trips in the pickup was the merits of riding in the cab vs. in the back. As it turned out, the pickup had air-conditioning. It was just that no one had activated it before. Debate settled. 

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Image 7. Amy teaching one of the charity’s paravets, Madane, stitching techniques. 


Day 9 - A long day 

Back near the coast, we set off early to perform a neutering clinic in an area known as Ghana Town. With a rudimentary operating theater set up in a shed, the charity staff and an entire class of Gambian animal welfare students ready to “help”, we were all set. 

The day was epic. People and animals everywhere, operation after operation with dwindling supplies of materials and anaesthetic. Many dogs neutered, treated and vaccinated. Even a monkey showed up at one point! It was fantastic to be part of the clinic and see the positive impact on the local animals. Everyone worked incredibly hard and the local community was friendly and enthusiastic to ensure their animals were properly cared for. For most of the day, crowds of children stood at the barred windows of the shed watching us work. At one point, 17 students decided to film Sam’s operation. No pressure. 

Returning late at night, a cold beer had been earned by all. 

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Image 8. The neutering clinic in full swing (left). Amy and Harriet enjoy a well-earned drink (right). 

Day 10 – X-rays and beach days 

Today was supposed to be a well-earned rest day but, in true veterinary medicine style, before we could hit the beach, we had to complete our hospital rounds and x-ray some patients that needed emergency treatment. 

We eventually did get to the beach. And it was glorious. 


Day 11 – Homeward bound 

Our final day was spent in a whirlwind of diagnostic imaging teaching. Between instruction in ultrasound and X-rays, we even found the time to fix a sheep’s broken leg. 

Upon heading home, we were many things; exhausted, exhilarated, closer as a team, a little sunburnt, and ready for a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. We were certainly grateful to the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust for taking care of us and allowing us to help with, and highlight, the fantastic work they do. It was an amazing trip that has left amazing memories, and many more stories than can be written here. 

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Image 9. Harriet teaches the charity’s paravets ultrasound techniques (left) whilst Amy teaches x-ray positioning (right). 

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