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17.04.2007 General News

The Veterinarian - Championing Society’s Food And Health Needs

Every year, on the last Saturday of April, the World celebrates World Veterinary Day to create awareness and appreciation of the immense contribution veterinarians make to national and international economy, food security and development.

In line with this, the Ghana Veterinary Medical Association has organised a programme of activities, starting from April 24, 2007 to commemorate the World Veterinary Day.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the veterinarian contributes immensely towards the development of growth at both national and global levels. A very respectable, prestigious and compassionate profession, its contributions are largely unappreciated because professionals in this field are perhaps too busy serving the public to publicise their contributions to animal and human health, animal welfare, food safety and food security.

The World Veterinary Association (WVA), originally established in 1863, is a global organisation which is adequately represented in all major world organisations such as the United Nations and its bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

This recognition enables the World Veterinary Association to participate in international veterinary and related policy formulation.

In this first decade of the 21st Century the veterinary profession is faced with the crucial decision of its future role and relevance in the society the profession serves and in the broader context of the sustainability of the environment all living things on our earth depend upon.

The profession must clearly identify the most fundamental and important social issues such as public health, food safety, environmental security and face up to the global challenge of biological security.

The most important issues confronting the veterinary profession are food safety and food security, emerging and re-emerging animal diseases, animal welfare and sustainable environment.

The local chapter of the World Veterinary Association, the Ghana Veterinary Medical Association (GMVA), has contributed in no small way to all the important issues confronting the veterinary profession and public health.

Veterinarians are the first to respond to problems which affect food safety and security. It is, therefore, important for veterinarians to have comprehensive understanding of how food security and sustainable agriculture are related to the production of safe food.

The veterinary profession is so diverse in scope to the extent that it takes care of pets, livestock and poultry, sporting and laboratory animals and protects humans against animal-borne diseases.

Veterinarians diagnose medical problems affecting animals, dress wounds, set broken bones, perform surgeries, prescribe and administer medicines and vaccinate against diseases. They also advise owners on care and breeding.

At present most veterinarians in Ghana are employed by the government and work in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, where they perform a variety of roles. Some veterinarians are in private general practice, treating all kinds of animals including dogs, cats, birds, cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.

Others have specialised in fish and poultry. A number of them are also engaged in research, food safety, and education. Some work with physicians and scientists on research to prevent and treat diseases in humans.

Veterinarians are also in regulatory medicine and public health. Others take care of animals in zoos while a few inspect meat, examine slaughtering and processing plants and examine live animals and carcasses for diseases.

In spite of the seeming impressive contribution by veterinarians in Ghana to livestock productivity, food safety, food security and public health, the veterinary profession is plagued by many challenges, which, if not given timely attention and intervention, will undermine veterinary services delivery and erode the past gains.

Some of these challenges are:-

• Serious shortages of logistics from the government

• The private sector in general is not yet fully developed to play a significant role in supporting the veterinary profession during emergencies.

• Gradual disappearance of the mass country-wide vaccination campaigns based on results of periodic surveys.

• The need to create active surveillance to ensure the detection of emerging disease threats.

• It is a matter of regret that contrary to development in many countries, here in Ghana, the inspection of meat in slaughter houses is still performed by personnel who have no formal training in veterinary medicine.

Not only is this considered to impact negatively on the quality of meat produced in Ghana, but the veterinary services are also denied the all-important process of tracing diseases from the abattoirs to the source, which can help in the prevention of epizootics.

• Inadequate human resource base, which is negatively affecting efficient veterinary services delivery.

• There is also the problem of a succession plan. Presently, a large number of practising veterinarians are 50 years plus. There is, therefore, the urgent need for encouraging the youth to enter the field.

It is encouraging to note that plans are far advanced to establish an institution to train veterinarians locally. The existing practice of training professionals abroad will, therefore, be curtailed.

Veterinarians are animal doctors, who, by their training and practice, undertake interventions in animals parallel to those done by medical doctors, yet the veterinary profession in Ghana does not receive the recognition it deserves, in spite of the very severe and stressful conditions in which veterinarians work.

It appears that many Ghanaians do not appreciate the versatility of the veterinarian's contribution towards the health and economic well-being of the populace.

The World Veterinary Day will be observed on April 26, 2007 and this will coincide with Ghana Veterinary Medical Association Week.

This day has been set aside to commemorate the establishment of the association for veterinarians the world over and emphasise and recognise their contribution to humanity in general.

It is our fervent wish that the work of professional veterinarians and their supporting staff is given the much needed boost in order to guarantee their selfless service to mankind in the years to come.

Article by Alfred Hughes