When Jose Luis Acompanado, a veterinarian for the provincial government of Northern Samar in the Philippines, applied for an Australian Development Scholarship in 2006 he was faced with a mission: to help arrest the increase in incidence of carabao deaths in the province.

In the rural agricultural areas in the Philippines, carabaos are important to help farmers in tilling their lands. In 2006, Northern Samar was grappling with the increasing death rate of carabaos in the province due to a dreaded animal disease known as Hemorrhagic  Septicimia (HS), a highly fatal bacterial disease seen mainly in cattle and water buffalo. Because the disease develops so quickly, few animals can be treated in time, and recovery is rare. The spread of the disease will wreak havoc to farmers’ incomes and food production.

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Jose Luis was awarded a Diploma in Tropical Veterinary Science/Master in Veterinary Studies in James Cook University in Australia. Australia is widely known as host to one the largest cattle populations in the world. In the course of his studies and visits to farms and laboratories in Australia, Jose Luis equipped himself with knowledge and skills on updating and modernising the conduct of post-mortem examination of animals, laboratory analysis, disease identification and formulation of measures for both cure and prevention for animal diseases.

Upon his return in 2008, Jose Luis quickly rolled out a HS eradication plan for the province as part of his re-entry action plan.   The re-entry action plan (REAP) is a unique feature of Australian Government scholarships in the Philippines – it ensures that the returning scholars will be able to apply what they learned in Australia and contribute to development in the Philippines; it is a way of giving back to Filipino communities.

The task was not easy. Upon his return from his studies in Australia, Jose Luis faced the twin problems of inadequate government resources and the resistance of farmers to the new methods he was introducing.

“Although I experienced difficulties during the implementation of the project such as inadequate financial, physical and human resources considering the need to reach far flung areas, activities were pursued as planned,” said Jose Luis. “We conducted animal health missions where farmers had to be persuaded to avail of the services offered by the government.”

As the Australian studies not only imbued new skills and knowledge on Filipino scholars like Jose Luis, but developed in them a new enterprising and creative outlook in designing solutions, the results of his mission were astonishing. Farmers volunteered to submit their animals for treatment and vaccination. Other local government units (LGUs)  in the province also showed interest in implementing the program in their own localities.

“Looking now at the overall results, incidence of carabao deaths due to HS dramatically decreased. In fact in some LGUs, they reported zero incidence of the illness as a result of the program,” Jose Luis said. He credits his Australian diploma, and his REAP, as driving factors to make a difference in the lives of his people in Northern Samar.

Jose Luis’ REAP effectively addressed the need for improved delivery of service of Northern Samar’s Veterinary Office, made possible with the continuous support of the provincial governor and key staff as well as strong coordination with municipal governments, the regional office of the Department of Agriculture , and the academe.

The Provincial Veterinary Office has much to be proud of with the achievements led by their very own officer: a dependable post-mortem examination service, a reliable database of endemic diseases, and an Animal Health Program adopted and implemented all over Northern Samar. Jose Luis also led the translation of the highly-technical HS disease prevention and control training program to the local Waray dialect, which made the program more acceptable to and easily understandable by the local farmers.

Mitigating carabao deaths in the province may be on top of the provincial veterinarian’s agenda for Northern Samar farmers. Yet, Jose Luis’ REAP also contributed to advancing equally significant programs.

The provincial government is now planning for and allocating resources to other programs that will help spur agricultural development in the province, such as: enhancing information dissemination on the dreaded avian influenza, developing project and research proposals to ensure a sustainable livestock and poultry industry in the province, putting up an integrated feed milling plant, and establishing a database on the livestock and poultry population of Northern Samar, using Geographic Information System [GIS] technology, which will accurately map the industry and establish baseline information for future development interventions.

“I am confident that people in the department would appreciate what we are doing in Northern Samar, not only as an isolated local innovation, but as possible model for other provinces to build on,” Jose Luis said.

The Australian Development Scholarship allowed Jose Luis to fulfill his mission – and more. Not only did he provide solutions for HS eradication in Northern Samar, but created similar solutions and hope for other provinces beset with the HS disease. Not only did he address animal disease prevention, the methods and approaches he shared also made a positive impact on other animal health challenges such as avian influenza.

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