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Report of the 3rd ICMM Course for Veterinary and Paraveterinary Personnel

Monday 8 May 2006 saw the opening of the Third ICMM Course for Veterinary and Paraveterinary Personnel when delegates from fourteen countries met for an icebreaker drink at the Military Medical Academy in Munich. Jointly hosted by Belgium, France and Germany, the course was to take the delegates on a whirlwind tour of the host nations, and expose them to scientific, technical and cultural activities over the following eleven days. During this time, the delegates would get to know each other better, and share a wealth of accumulated knowledge with each other, parting as better friends and with a better understanding of the challenges that face all military veterinary personnel throughout the world.

As had become customary during the first two courses, and attempt was made to provide a programme that was as diverse as possible, encapsulating veterinary medicine, laboratory sciences, food and water hygiene, and ensuring that a number of technical visits exposed all the delegates to areas of veterinary science form which they could learn. At the same time, adequate time has to be provided for interaction and exchange of information, and the social programme is another vital component of the programme mix.

During the course of the programme, delegates were exposed to a number of technical visits aimed at providing an insight into the way that different nations provide the services within their ambit. These visits included :
The pack horse unit at beautiful Bad Reichenhall where horses are trained to provide logistic support in mountainous areas;
The veterinary branch of the Central Institute in Munich, where laboratory support is provided to veterinarians in the field, and specialist investigations can be performed;
The dog school at Ulm where delegates were exposed to the unique training approach of the Bundeswehr, and their marvellous ability to create training terrains in within their infrastructure;
The veterinary clinic within the dog school, with its state of the art facilities, and obviously dedicated personnel;
The veterinary clinic of the Belgian Dog school, where comprehensive veterinary support is provided to military working dogs of the Belgian Armed Forces;
A Belgian Blue farm, where delegates were exposed to the unique problems associated with farming these well-known animals;
A dairy factory and a cheese factory where the role of the veterinarian in ensuring the health and safety of the human food chain was emphasized;
The unit of the Belgian Armed Forces responsible for the disposal of the millions of bombs from the First World War that are still found daily in the area;
The French Army dog school and veterinary clinic at Suippes, where once again the different approaches of armed forces throughout the world to the management of animals became apparent. At the same time, however, it became abundantly clear once again, that military veterinarians face many of the same changes in similar environments, no matter where in the world they work;
The Engineer Battalion at Metz, where delegates were exposed to the water treatment equipment used by the unit, as well as to the new mobile veterinary laboratory and the other veterinary laboratory facilities at the unit;
The magnificent Republican Guard in Paris, where the delegates were privileged to witness one of the legendary demonstrations by the equestrian unit.

As can be seen, the diversity of the technical visits provided something of interest to everyone, and exposed all the facets of military veterinary medicine with which they may not always have been conversant. Visits of this nature are of immense value as part of the overall learning experience, and on this course, provided invaluable information, and added considerably to both the scientific value of the course, and the ambience in which it was conducted.

The programme of scientific papers is a crucial component of a course of this nature, and provides a particular challenge to the organisers because of the wide range of specialist interest fields within the military veterinary milieu. Delegates to these courses require exposure to topics of a highly scientific nature within their own fields of expertise, but also require presentations on experiences of other nations and the lessons learned during the performance of tasks common to all military veterinarians. The organisers went to significant efforts to ensure that all these areas were covered, with papers that included the following :
Nephrosplenic entrapments in horse;
Approaches to the anaesthesia of horses;
The control of avian influenza;
The advantages of real-time PCR over conventional PCR
Supply of quality water to military training camps;
Deployment of veterinarians in Kosovo;
Q-fever in deployed military personnel;
International training opportunities;
Prophylactic measures against infectious diseases in deployed military animals;
Epidemiology and diagnosis of equine encephalitis viruses;
Medical force protection in the Democratic Republic of Congo;
Alternative tools in training explosives sniffer dogs;
The spectrum of conditions treated in military working dogs in a single facility;
Combat feeding programmes;

Epidemiological surveillance of parasitic and infectious diseases;
Presentation of the draft agreement between the WHO and ICMM;
Trypanosoma congolense infection in deployed military working dogs;
Behavioural problems in military working dogs;
Approaches to dog training and deployment;
Treatment of tooth fractures and dental prostheses;

Within the papers presented, there was something of interest to all, and a great deal that could be learned. It was particularly encouraging to see the number of papers that were presented by very junior personnel, and the confidence with which they handled questions at the end of the presentations. Their level of interest and knowledge bodes well for the future of military veterinary science.

Apart from visiting facilities and listening to technical papers, it has become a tradition on veterinary courses to include a cultural component of the course, introducing the delegates to some of the sights and experiences of the host nations. On this course, visits were made to the following :
Time was made available to delegates to spend an evening on the beautiful city of Munich, and to experience its sights, sounds and tastes;
The historic city of Rothenburg;
The city of Brugge, including a luncheon provided by the Governor;
The Flanders Field Museum, devoted to the senselessness of the First World War and the countless lives lost;
The Ypres Cats Parade – a cultural event that takes place only once every 3 years, and commemorates the role and place of cats in history and development;
The world-famous and very moving Tyne Cot Cemetery’;
The Last Post ceremony at Menen Gate, where the course was privileged to lay a wreath;
A French champagne farm, followed by a dinner afloat on the river.

All of these activities are enjoyable in themselves, but have as a deeper reason a better understanding of our colleagues from around the world and a greater appreciation of the diversity of backgrounds of military veterinarians.

The final component of a military veterinary course is the social programme. This programme has an important place in the organising of the course, because it not only allows the delegates to relax after a long day of lectures and visits but also, more importantly, provides the opportunity for them to talk to each other. It is at these social occasions that huge amounts of experience and opinions are exchanged, and it is here where military veterinarians learn most from each other. We should also not forget the immeasurable benefit to be gained from getting to know each other a little better – the military veterinary world is small, and relies heavily on cooperation between military veterinary personnel from different countries, as has been experienced on a number of occasions during deployments and missions. The organisers of the third course are to be congratulated on the diversity of social events that they provided, and the opportunities they created for interaction.

The culmination of the course, eleven days after its start, was the final banquet in Paris. Delegates had spent eleven days together, learning from each other and experiencing a wonderful mix of scientific, technical and cultural activities. The banquet provided the most appropriate ending to the course, with wonderful food and wine, and a marvellously convivial atmosphere. Although the banquet is a high point of the course, however, it is also a time of sadness as delegates say goodbye to each other until the next course. Where better to do this than the lovely city of Paris?

The Third International Course for Veterinary and Paraveterinary Personnel has now come and gone. Both personally and on behalf of the delegates, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the members of the organising committee for putting together an unforgettable course. The third course will be talked about for years to come, and was a credit to the imagination and dedication of all those involved in putting it together. We left Paris having had a wonderful experience and forming even closer ties. We all look forward to the fourth course and the opportunity once again to promote the science of military veterinary medicine.

Doctor R.P. SHORT