In a mountainous region in Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border, fighting and drought had decimated the animal population. What was once a thriving livestock region had turned into a combat zone, leaving farm families with limited options for survival.

Lt. Col. Sam Barringer, DVM, commissioned preventive medicine officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, led a team to help re-establish animal agriculture in the area. In some cases, it's meant that family members have an alternative to joining extremist movements to obtain resources. In others, it has meant basic survival.

“Our mission was to help reinvigorate animal agriculture in the area so families could once again be self-sufficient,” says Barringer, manager of livestock veterinary operations with Pfizer Animal Health, Monument, CO. Barringer was deployed to Afghanistan as a public health adviser in November 2006. His work with the animal agriculture program started taking shape in early 2007.

The first step in the three-year program was to bring in livestock from areas around Afghanistan that had an excess of animals. “The program is designed to be self-sustaining,” Barringer explains. “Each family receives five animals, one male. As the animals reproduce, each family has to return one animal to the program. Additional offspring are used to expand flocks or herds, or as food for the family.”

The second step of the program was to train local veterinarians on animal health assessment, prevention and treatment products and product administration. The local veterinarians were then responsible for administering animal care using products donated to the program.

Barringer and his team presented a three-day training course for 45 Afghan veterinarians. He says the training was intense, breaks were rare and participants were very attentive.

“These veterinarians are very passionate about what they do, especially since, in many cases, they're also the area's human medical providers,” Barringer says. “The veterinarians had a good, basic understanding of antibiotics, but we were moving them into the 21st century at warp speed — even something as simple as a multi-dose syringe was an amazing innovation to them. With their basic knowledge and willful determination, we were able to quickly get them up to speed on new advancements in animal medicine.

“Livestock in Afghanistan get the same diseases as in the U.S.,” Barringer adds. “Pneumonia was the most common disease seen by veterinarians, and the long-acting antibiotics that Pfizer donated were critical based on the need to effectively control disease problems and the unique distance issues.”

Veterinarians travel across their rural practice areas on motorcycles, horseback and even bicycles. They frequently travel great distances to treat an animal, then are unable to return for long periods of time, making repeat treatments extremely difficult. Part of Barringer's efforts included developing treatment protocols that would fit these logistical challenges.

“Treating animals on a daily basis or even every three days is impossible for these practitioners due to distance and transportation limitations,” Barringer says. “I requested products based on their effectiveness against common pathogens and duration of therapy provided. The long-acting, extended-therapy antibiotics were beneficial because they offer 7-14 days of therapy. We also provided a parasiticide that offers activity of up to 28 days for the control of internal parasite infestations.”

Barringer was chosen to lead this effort because of his unique and varied background in veterinary medicine and public health issues, and his extensive military training and combat situation experience.

He notes that the program isn't a typical military project, as it's a joint effort of the U.S. military, the host nation and an American corporation. Pfizer responded to an official request from the U.S. military by providing veterinary products.

“The gratitude of the veterinarians and the farmers was overwhelming,” Barringer says. “In many cases, our work is the difference between life and death for a family because no animals equals no food and no money to buy it.”

Kenna Rathai produced this article for Pfizer Animal Health.