Oregon State Veterinary Students Provide Veterinary Care and Education in Rural Nicaragua

By Ali McKay

Ometepe Island, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, is largely undeveloped. Reached only by ferry, the villages of Ometepe have few modern amenities, and—despite an economy based largely on livestock and agriculture—Ometepe has no resident veterinarian.

Christina Lackey treats dog
CVM student Christina Lackey treats a pet at the free clinic in Ometepe, Nicaragua.

Once a year, the Oregon State University (OSU) student chapter of the International Veterinary Students Association (IVSA) organizes a trip to Ometepe to provide a week of free clinics. This past September, 30 students from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine (OSU CVM) plus 8 veterinarians, volunteered their time to treat more than 400 sick animals. In addition, they performed 78 spay and neuters, 11 equine castrations and 24 equine dental procedures.

Each morning volunteers found a line of people waiting with their animals. “Some of these people would wait all day just so we could examine their pet,” said OSU CVM student, Sara Livesay. “There were a few very long days where we ended up doing surgery with headlamps for light, and after the procedure the owner was still there waiting for their dog to recover so they could take him or her home.” And when they weren’t working at the clinic, team members made farm calls often travelling by mountain bike to rural areas.

The mission of the IVSA trip is to provide optimal care to the animals, education to the people of Ometepe, and maximum learning experiences for the student volunteers. This was OSU IVSA's fifth visit to Nicaragua, and students who made the trip last year had the satisfaction of seeing 120 returning patients.

In addition to veterinary care, the OSU team offered a public health seminar on infectious and zoonotic diseases. Companion animals suffer from malnourishment and diseases, many of which are transmissible to their human families. By addressing these issues, IVSA hopes to improve the health of both pets and people while also reducing disease transmission by encouraging appropriate sanitation and health practices. This year’s presentation also incorporated flea and tick control education. The seminar was well received, and all attendees received flea and tick preventative for their pets as a bonus.

IVSA team
The 2011 OSU IVSA team.

Another educational component of this year’s trip was provided by the OSU CVM Biomedical Sciences Department Head, Dr. Luiz Bermudez, who supported five students in research projects related to the challenges faced by the animals of Nicaragua. Ryan Hill (Class of 2013), researched the prevalence of leptospirosis in dogs. Kelby Myers (Class of 2013) and Sara Livesay (Class of 2013) researched the intestinal parasites of horses and pigs, respectively, while Stacee Hironaga-Kim (Class of 2013) and Laura Niman (Class of 2014) will be compiling data on the anesthesia protocols and outcomes used by the group.

Ali McKay is a student at Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine, class of 2013.