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Last week saw an example of remote working at its best with the Cojengo team spread out over three countries with Craig in Nairobi, myself in Addis Ababa and Iain holding down the fort back in Glasgow. With constant updates flying back and forth over WhatsApp and more detailed catch up sessions over Skype, it really didn’t feel like we were that far apart (plus Iain is usually holed up in a dark room coding away somewhere even when we are in Glasgow!).

The purpose of my trip was to run a workshop with a handpicked group of leading veterinary professionals. Having recently formed a partnership with the Addis Ababa College of Veterinary Medicine, we felt this was a great opportunity to start researching different ways to evolve and continually improve VetAfrica to ensure its accuracy and ability to correctly address the diverse needs and challenges faced by those who work with livestock in Ethiopia.

Working closely with our regional coordinator, we generated long list of experienced veterinary professionals who oversee work in a variety of areas from the clinics to the laboratories at AAU CVM. Invitations sent and confirmations received, phase one was complete and the experts had signed up for the workshop, precisely the number we were looking for.

The location – we decided on the beautiful Adulala Resort which is situated on the nearby lake Babogaya, just a short drive away from the vet school. After negotiating a price for reservation of the conference room along with coffee and lunch for the group, all that was left was to actually get to Ethiopia. Despite being on a night flight taking off at 10pm, I couldn’t turn down the offer of some freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee, the stuff really is unbeatable!

Things went very smoothly throughout the trip. The accommodation was very nice and thankfully the hotel had its own generator – particularly useful in any area prone to power cuts! A cold shower (or two) and some spotty Wi-Fi connectivity were the only mishaps we encountered, meanwhile in the neighbouring town of Bishoftu extended periods without power were experienced (but this does not seem to affect mobile phone signal).

The first point of discussion was an opinion poll on what the experts believed the most significantly occurring diseases in the country were. After an extensive list was generated, a few entries were trimmed from the list such as diseases which were very easy to diagnose (such as aggressive rabies), or extremely rare. Following this, a list of clinical signs and symptoms was made. The idea was to trim this list in a similar way, but some debate ensued over the correct terminology to use and the value of including certain symptoms (i.e. can you treat an animal exhibiting “sudden death” or is this more a factor for the post mortem?).

The participants were then split into groups to carry out some survey based information sharing. Being my first visit to this hotel, I wasn’t sure of the reliability of the internet connectivity. As a precaution, we developed a bespoke ‘offline’ survey system that runs off a USB stick containing a portable web server. The only downside of this method is that results must be manually gathered from each USB stick before being imported into the management application. The groups were gathered back together and anonymized results were displayed - several more discussions took place over the results and a bit of ‘classroom banter’ ensued until some consensus was (more or less) reached.

Overall the workshop was immensely beneficial, it’s great we have now made significant steps forward in evolving VetAfrica and delivering our product roadmap. Hopefully we can replicate this across the entire continent over time.