Community animal health workers (CAHWS) have become an important element of VWB/VSF's approach to development. Members of VSF International have developed decades of expertise in CAHW training models, embracing the practical notion that local people with an aptitude for animal care can be empowered to perform many basic veterinary tasks, dramatically improving animal health in their villages and regions.
In many of the countries where VWB/VSF works there are few veterinarians and most of those are government employees working at a policy or supervisory level. Even if more vets were available, most small farmers would not be able to afford their services. CAHWs fill the gap, serving the needs of small livestock owners at an affordable price, while providing a good livelihood for the CAHWs. VWB/VSF has developed an effective training program based on a curriculum developed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. VWB/VSF tries to ensure that CAHWs have the support of veterinarians, often by cell phone, to provide diagnostic assistance and advice. Government veterinarians have learned that the value flows both ways. CAHWs are their eyes and ears in the field – the first to notice the emergence of new diseases, or spot an outbreak in time to prevent a full epidemic. Another important factor in CAHW success is ensuring that they have appropriate, properly refrigerated medicines, vaccines, and supplies. That need is filled through the creation of rural drug vendors and, in some cases, regional animal health centres.