People Has Heart: The Bizana project is not only invested in improving the health of horses, but also in ensuring that children are able to attend school every day and get the education they need for a prosperous future.
For many people living in rural communities horses and ponies provide their only means of transport. Bizana is one such area. Located in Kwazulu-Natal, between Kokstad and Port Edward, the area is home to over 10 000 horses and ponies who serve as the main transport system for children to get to school, and for families to travel to work and the market on a daily basis.
Tragically, the area is frequently devastated by African Horse Sickness (AHS) – a highly infectious viral Equine disease, which is usually fatal (mortality rate of 70-90%), and is transmitted by biting insects. Among the symptoms of AHS are fever, sweating, breathing difficulties, discharge from the nose, and swelling of the eyes, head and other parts of the body. This is because the AHS virus damages the endothelial cells of small blood vessels, allowing blood serum to leak into the tissues and lungs. While there is a vaccination available to prevent this disease, with no dedicated veterinary service to help these horses, and no clinic building that might encourage a veterinarian to offer a service to this community, these animals are left to die a painful death.
The Bizana CVC Project aims to change this. The project’s goal is to open a dedicated simple clinic building to vaccinate each and every horse in the region against AHS, as well as tetanus, and provide holding paddocks around the schools where the horses can be left safely during school hours. From a pilot project it is clear that this combination will dramatically improve not only schooling attendance (and so the community will be significantly helped), but also vastly improve the health and lives of the horses.
“My assistant, Xolile Ngesi, who has been with me since 2001, comes from this area and has wanted to help the ponies in the area for a long time. As he has seen the benefits of vaccinating against AHS, he has been asking that I help try to prevent the large number of deaths they have in the area from AHS outbreaks,” explains Dr Rissa Parker of Glen Austin Equine Clinic, and founder of The Bizana CVC Project. “Helen Tiffin of Almiray Veterinary Hospital and I set off one weekend in 2013 to Bizana to vaccinate 250 ponies and to provide some primary health care. This was supported by the African Horse Sickness Trust, which donated the first 400 vaccines. Post the August 2013 outreach, I decided to formalise the project by establishing a CVC (Community Veterinary Clinic) under the umbrella of the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA). This is an initiative of the SAVA to provide veterinary care to underprivileged communities through-out South Africa.”
Dr Parker explains that the Bizana CVC Project was registered in May 2014 and is the first equine (horse) clinic in the country. “We have been frequenting the area ever since. Often many of the owners and young children ride across country, sometimes for two hours, to meet us with their ponies to be vaccinated. Xolile has successfully networked with his connections so that we have various meeting points spread over about 100km radius. As the word has spread so too have the number of ponies being brought in for vaccinations, and new areas have been visited. Today we have designated meeting points surrounding the towns where horses gather. Xolile has helped us make friends with key members of the community, including a very popular captain in the police force. They help spread the word about where to meet. There is no difficulty engaging with the local people once they know that we are coming and what we are trying to do. The owners of the ponies range from small children to old men, all of whom are totally comfortable handling and riding their ponies, sometimes with only a rope halter for control. Our visits are greatly appreciated and the number of people coming to have their horses and ponies vaccinated has been increasing dramatically with each visit and this is very encouraging.”
The Bizana CVC Project requests a small amount for the vaccine so the owners value the service but this in no way pays for the Project. The Project relies completely on volunteers, with a number of veterinarians going up for weekends to work. They have vaccinated up to 400 ponies in a weekend!
“Fundraising is an endless job as we need to buy vaccines, which must be refrigerated all the time, and travel to the area,” says Dr Parker. “A trip is over 2000km of driving as we are based in Midrand, Gauteng Province. The effort is rewarded by amazing gratitude from the people who bring their ponies. The love for their ponies is immense and they hate to see the suffering caused by this disease. We also try to provide primary health care, as there is no veterinary service available in this area.”
Well some may argue that animals should not be a form of transport the reality is that healthy ponies and horses provide a means to attend class (not having to walk to school) that facilitates learning by scholars, which improves learning and ultimately give the community the opportunity to see one of their own children going on to obtain higher education and hopefully one of them will become a veterinarian or animal technician able to serve this area. The horses and ponies are an integral part of these families.
Pay It Forward
There is nothing more devastating than the loss of the family pony or horse – the children land up not being able to go to school and the women find themselves having to do all the heavy carrying and distance travel. The Bizana CVC Project is a very deserving, if small, charitable cause. If you are in a position to help [email protected]
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