The extended InterNICHE outreach to Iran, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from April-June 2012 was a very successful 2-month series of seminars, multimedia exhibitions and further meetings. It provided the first major exposure to replacement alternatives in countries that have a degree of isolation from the rest of the world, and a reputation for conducting severe animal experiments.

The many years of InterNICHE campaigning in Russia and Ukraine, combined with the development of new InterNICHE resources and support from funders, enabled ground-breaking activity in these new countries to take place. InterNICHE Co-ordinator Nick Jukes and InterNICHE Ukraine National Contact Dmitry Leporsky co-organised 1-2 day seminars with universities across Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, lecturing and demonstrating alternatives to up to 170 teachers and students per event, and meeting with Deans and Rectors to discuss collaboration.

Contacts were made primarily through internet research made by Dmitry Leporsky, and there was significant involvement in the organisation from Deans, Rectors, Heads of Department and university administrations. Some teachers and officials were surprised that InterNICHE had reached them, but were very friendly and keen to collaborate - even though in some cases not fully understanding beforehand the issue or the tasks necessary for such an event. Not all individuals were not familiar with computers and the internet, providing challenges to the organisation process.

The venues in Uzbekistan comprised:

  1. Tashkent Medical Academy
  2. Tashkent State Agriculture University (Zootechnics Faculty)
  3. Samarkand State Agriculture Institute

Tashkent Medical Academy was the initial contact for the trip, from which point the broader outreach began. Unlike most other venues, the organisers didn’t invite any students or research students. The Academy uses the Biopac Student Lab in physiology practical classes, and are proud of it. They made the purchase of the apparatus conditional on the producers providing the manual in Russian.

Tashkent State Agriculture University provided a new and well-funded resource centre for the event. This centre has conference facilities, over 100 computers, and a library, all of which the university is clearly proud. Networking facilities exist so that events can be broadcast to other universities and colleges right across the country. Its potential to connect nationwide will be explored in any future alternatives visit to the country. The resource centre suggests that at least in some places the government invests in education with new resources, rebuilding and repairs, unlike in the Ukraine, Russia and Kyrgyzstan.

At the end of the seminar at this university, one older teacher called for everyone to come closer and hold hands. She gave a blessing, with words that expressed that they were happy to meet us, that we are nations united across different cultures, united in life, with a mission, and performing good deeds. Shared words from everyone concluded the ritual.

The connection initially developed with Samarkand State Agriculture Institute was made thanks to an animal welfare / rights group in the city, though was much less strong than those in other cities and institutes. But a somewhat impromptu meeting with the head of international affairs and the Rector, where photos of the recent seminar held at the Tashkent State Agriculture University shown, and discussion held about potential grant funding, was very successful. It led to the organisation of a seminar within 2-3 days, with some senior members of staff present for the full day.

In Kyrgyzstan the venues comprised:

  1. B.Yeltsin Kirgizian-Russian Slavic University and Kirgizian State Medical Academy (Medical Faculty)
  2. Skryabin Kirgizian National Agriculture university (Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnology Faculty)
  3. Arabaev Kirgizian State University (Biology and Chemistry Faculties)
  4. Osh State University (Medicine and Biology Faculties)

The well-attended joint seminar between the B.Yeltsin Kirgizian-Russian Slavic University and Kirgizian State Medical Academy (Medical Faculty) was organized by the Dean, who is very socially engaged and well connected at the government level. At the meetings, the Kyrgyz reality was clear: the country faces very challenging economic conditions, and institutes face difficult conditions. Both water and gas cut were cut off at times during the stay in the centre of this capital city, for example.

Like other institutes, Soviet films had been digitised and are used as alternatives, despite their focus on animal experimentation and limited pedagogical value. Othervideos of experiments have also made internally, as a direct result of financial problems due to the lack of government funding. The Medical Academy does have, however, a valuable plastination museum. Some significant media coverage resulted from the seminar.

The Arabaev Kirgizian State University (Biology and Chemistry Faculties) is a pedagogical university, and the friendly hosts valued the importance of humane teaching and the development of positive attitudes in the students.

As a result of the Soviet Union, Russian is a common language in many of the independent states, and Dmitry Leporsky both presented at the seminars and translated between English and Russian. InterNICHE already has basic introductory texts in Uzbek and Kyrgyz, and several offers of future help in translation into Uzbek and Kyrgyz were made during the outreach.However, at some events those who speak only Uzbek and Kyrgyz did not attend, leaving only the participants who were Russian-speaking. 

Formal agreements signed with university departments and faculties across Russia and Ukraine in recent years have now led to the annual use of over 50,000 animals being replaced with alternatives. Similar potential agreements were discussed with the administration of Uzbek and Kyrgyz universities. At all institutes, the question of how participants can obtain software, models, mannekins and simulators that were described naturally arose.Some alternatives were donated at the end of the events, and wish lists created for alternatives that can replace the dissections and animal experiments.

Negotiations to continue these processes and to implement alternatives are on-going, with many promising results. Teachers are researching the animal use to provide to InterNICHE and other collaborators for the outreach, and they will liaise over potential Agreements and other projects such as production of new alternatives.

As the autumn 2012 semester began after the summer break, contact could be resumed. In a very significant development, one whole university in Kyrgyzstan has now agreed to end all animal use. Once the alternatives are donated and implemented, this will save 856 frogs, 138 rabbits, 420 rats, 39 guinea pigs and 10 dogs annually, and a public announcement made.

The outreach to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan was considered very successful, with great openness to alternatives shown and valuable opportunities for future collaboration identified. The experience of the 2012 outreach provided many lessons in how to work effectively in the countries, and a subsequent follow-up trip can build on the first to consolidate the initial successes and to achieve more replacement.

For example, in Uzbekistan, strong centralised government control meant that officially Ministry permission is needed for such events, and future events, if supported by the government, can be organised with even greater attendance and support. Independently, InterNICHE has agreed a Partner for Uzbekistan, and this individual will help in follow up, facilitating further replacement activity in the country.

An agreement has been signed between InterNICHE and DAAE on one hand, and the entire Faculty of Medicine of Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University in Kyrgyzstan to end experiments and use replacement alternatives. Negotiations are continuing for a similar agreement to be made with the Department of Normal Physiology at Tashkent Medical Academy. 

Further support to enable InterNICHE activity in the two countries, as well as in nearby Iran, is needed. Funds can help cover practical outreach costs such as flights, and can pay for the purchase, duplication and sometimes translation of the alternatives required to directly replace harmful animal use. They can also help cover the core costs that enable all InterNICHE activity to continue.