Following renewed outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, the president of the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC), Dr Alfred Kgasi, says the country has made little progress in training and retaining more veterinarians.
This, as Mzansi continues to lose its veterinarians to countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand where their qualifications are in high demand.
Experts say the shortage of local veterinarians have compromised the implementation of animal disease control and risk mitigation measures.
Internationally, there are between 200 and 400 veterinarians per million people, but in stark contrast South Africa only has between 60 and 70 veterinarians for the same number of people. Government says there simply isn’t enough money to employ more veterinarians.
Zolani Sinxo: With renewed outbreaks of animal diseases across the country, many farmers are concerned about the shortages. Are we making any progress to fix Mzansi’s dwindling veterinary labour force?
Dr Alfred Kgasi: Unfortunately, the situation continues with little reprieve. This is even more critical given the recent outbreaks of livestock diseases that could massively affect food security and farmers’ livelihoods. The reality is that we have only one veterinary school in the country; and that produces about 170 veterinarians per year.
The lucrative opportunities that exist for young veterinary graduates overseas further precipitates the problem. We need to have robust discussions and be intentional on how to increase the number of veterinarians in the country.
This will require exploring the possibilities of expanding veterinary faculties to meet the needs of the country. There is no doubt that veterinary education is expensive but we need to think with vision and determination of how to meet the current and future needs of the country.
Last year, the Free State was reported to be the most affected by the shortage of state veterinarians. Is the problem more prevalent in certain provinces?
The problem is national in general, but more apparent in provinces with higher livestock populations where herd health services are critical to support livestock farming.
There is also a disproportionate distribution of veterinarians in urban versus rural areas. Majority of rural farmers depend on livestock for their livelihood and food security. Limited access to veterinary services leads to unnecessary production losses and public health risks.
How is government and the SAVC addressing the issue?
The SAVC does not, within its legislated jurisdiction, control the number of veterinarians produced in the country. However, the SAVC will continue to engage with relevant stakeholders on finding ways to address this problem.
We are aware that there are ongoing developments around the possible establishment of another veterinary faculty in the country.
As a veterinary regulatory body, we have openly shared our self-evaluation framework with interested parties, which outlines the evaluation process for existing and new veterinary schools. We do not intend to meddle in the process, however, we will provide support and provide information to assist any interested training institutions in their planning and due diligence.
Our veterinary shortage seems quite critical when compared to the rest of the world…
One reality is that we still have one of the lowest numbers of veterinarians per capita as compared to European countries that have an average of 0.38 veterinarians per 1 000 people [according to a 2018 survey of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe].
Funding for veterinary education needs to be increased and a concerted effort should be made to recruit students, particularly from previously disadvantaged communities, into veterinary science. There is still very limited awareness amongst black communities regarding veterinary services and the critical role of veterinarians play in society.
This a historical issue that needs to be addressed as more awareness is needed to profile and elevate the profession in those communities. The awareness and practice of primary animal health care is still limited in most historically disadvantaged communities, and this has a negative effect on successful livestock production in those communities.
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