Donation of Tetanus Vaccines, organized by Colorado State University Veterinarian, Helps Working Horses and Donkeys in Ethiopia

A gift of vaccines to help prevent the death and suffering of thousands of working horses and donkeys arrived in Ethiopia earlier this month in a gift arranged by a Colorado State University veterinarian. The vaccines, donated by Fort Dodge Animal Health, a veterinary medicine supplier based in Kansas, will help prevent tetanus in 5,000 working horses and donkeys and will protect the lifeline of families who often are dependent upon the animals for their livelihood.

The vaccines arrived in Debre Zeit near Addis Ababa the first week of November in support of the British charity SPANA – the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad. Veterinarians and veterinary students there immediately began tetanus vaccinations for the animals, many of which are the sole source of financial support for up to 20 or 30 people in a family. Dr. Paul Lunn, head of the Department of Clinical Sciences at Colorado State, organized the gift from Fort Dodge to SPANA after hearing about the charity from Dr. Derek Knotternbelt, a colleague who works at the Liverpool veterinary school in the UK and who now is president of the charity.

"This was a unique opportunity to offer a powerful long-term health benefit to the animals that we care about that would also impact the people that work with them," Lunn said. "Saving a single animal from tetanus potentially saves a whole family from serious hardship and loss."

While virtually eliminated in the United States through the use of vaccines, tetanus is much more common in less-developed countries where poor farmers and laborers cannot afford even basic veterinary care; the price of a donkey is typically a year’s wages. Tetanus is caused by toxin-producing bacteria that typically invade a wound, such as a cut or puncture. It causes painful spasms of muscles and is frequently fatal in animals, with at least an 80 percent fatality rate without adequate veterinary attention.

Tetanus is known as the cause of death of General Robert E. Lee’s favorite horse, Traveller, after he stepped on a nail, but the infection causes the painful death of thousands of working animals in countries where preventative veterinary care is not standard. However, the veterinary vaccine for tetanus is extremely effective in preventing the disease and lasts a relatively long time. It provides optimal protection for a year, but research indicates that it may provide some level of protection for up to several years.

Fort Dodge Animal Health donated 10,000 doses of tetanus vaccine, enough to vaccinate 5,000 working horses. The vaccine must be given to the same animal twice in doses two weeks apart to be effective. In late November, SPANA veterinarians began giving the vaccines to working horses in Ethiopia at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Debre Zeit, about 45 kilometers from the capital, Addis Ababa. The vaccines also are distributed with education materials to the owners on veterinary and basic health care needs, such as proper nutrition. The vaccines made a brief stop in Fort Collins at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital so Lunn, who worked with Fort Dodge and SPANA to secure the donation, could ensure that the vaccines were shipped in a cooler to Ethiopia. Lunn worked with Dr. Karen Reed, SPANA’s veterinary director, and Dr. Rocky Bigbie, director of veterinary relations with Fort Dodge Animal Health.

"The generosity of Fort Dodge Animal Health – and especially of Dr. Rocky Bigbie with the company, who really championed this gift – has made an extremely significant impact in a number of ways," Lunn said. "The vaccines will prevent the suffering and deaths of thousands of animals in Ethiopia, serve as an opportunity for veterinarians to reach animal owners with education, and greatly contribute to the sustainability of families and communities so dependent upon these animals. This gift is a great example of how companies like Fort Dodge Animal Health really care about animal health and all it means to people."  

SPANA, founded in 1923 and based in London, is active in eight countries, with 19 veterinary centers and 21 mobile clinics that reach animals in markets, villages and remove places.