Voice of the Voiceless
In developing nations like Bangladesh, the death of animals not only represent a loss of income for farm families, but also, family savings and investments over many years. Dr Salma Sultana is one young woman who had a brazen willingness to leave traditional careers in medicine behind to wade into veterinary practice, an often challenging and underappreciated field of work in Bangladesh. She has taken it upon herself to provide help to animals, their owners, as well as other members of the community.
Dr Sultana completed her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2012 from Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. In the same year, she joined as a Veterinary Officer at the community-based Dairy Veterinary Foundation under Bangladesh Agricultural University. While working at the foundation, she realised that a number of things were lacking in the field of animal healthcare. “When I started working professionally as a veterinarian after my DVM, I realised that there was a significant gap between the availability and the demand for treatment in the rural areas,” says Dr Sultana. Along with the suffering of animals themselves, animal diseases devastate some of the most underprivileged communities.
She obersved that farmers, whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on their livestock could not afford treatment, and thus they sometimes resorted to untrained doctors or treating the animals on their own. Dr Sultana further says that numerous village doctors she worked with have no regard or compassion for animals. They view animal casualties as a result of overdoses or faulty treatment as nothing more than failed cases and stepping stones to get better. Often, they randomly use drugs in sub or overdoses. Consequently, over time, animals become resistant to drugs including antimicrobials. Humans too are becoming multidrug resistant as a result of their consumption of animal products, which can be life-threatening for them in the coming years. Eventually she realised she needed to do something on her own to become a voice for the most voiceless beings in the community.
After she completed her post-graduate educationin pharmacology in 2014, Dr Sultana founded the Model Livestock Advancement Foundation (MLAF) in 2015. The organisation is currently the only non-government and non-profitable animal healthcare and vocational training center in Bangladesh. Its activities range from organising herd health and farmer awareness programmes and short need-based training programmes to providing modern healthcare services to both livestock and household pets at an affordable price. However, the journey to establishing the organisation was not one without difficulties. MLAF started out with vocational education and then moved on to expanding towards hospital services from December 2015 onwards. They only charged Tk 100 for registration. Dr Sultana adds, “Underprivileged visitors who absolutely could not afford the fee received free treatment. As a result, it was becoming quite difficult to sustain our services.” The organisation eventually registered as a social welfare under the Societies Registration Act 1860 and was thus able to receive grants which have greatly helped their operations. The MLAF has also held workshops in Sirajganj, Nilfamari, Thakurgaon, Rangpur, Kurigram, and more.
In 2017, Dr Sultana was honoured with the Joy Bangla Youth Award for her contribution to social development. As a successful veterinarian, she has also received the Mother Teresa Award 2017. Most recently, this young woman added another feather in her cap in the form of the International Arch of Europe Quality and Technology Award in the 'Gold' category in terms of leadership, quality, innovation, and excellence. “Any achievement that I receive clearly brings immense joy to us, and it is mainly because of the attention that my institute receives. The recognition helps us obtain the attention of many potential organisations that may be keen on becoming our partners,” says Dr Sultana. She further adds that there is no greater joy for her than to be able to represent a vastly neglected sector of healthcare.
Since its inception, the MLAF has created 45 full-time veterinary service providers and over 300 livestock entrepreneurs through various training courses and workshops in conjunction with the Bangladesh Technical Education Board. The almost untapped potential of employment has started showing an abundance of hope for anyone who wants to consider a career in the livestock sector. In the future, the MLAF plans to further expand its operations from its current location in Demra to remote areas all over Bangladesh. As treatment of animal diseases is majorly dependent on antibiotics, there is a danger of the bacteria developing resistance as a result of incorrect diagnosis. Bearing that in mind, the MLAF's awareness programmes are looking to mitigate this problem in the country. Online treatment and consultancy through video calls are also in the works. “A large portion of our population consists of farmers who rely heavily on their livestock, and if their animals die without proper treatment, their losses are devastating. I have vowed to dedicate my life to serving them,” says a resolute Dr Sultana.