In a growing concern for animal health, food safety, and security, the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) has called for the reinstatement of veterinarians on the country’s critical skills list. The removal of veterinarians from the list in 2022 has exacerbated the shortage of qualified vets in the country, leading to potential crises in the agricultural sector.
“Reinstating vets on this list will help the country retain qualified vets and aid foreign veterinarians who want to practice here,” says Dr Nandipha Ndudane, president of the SAVC.
The council has been working closely with the Department of Agriculture, on land reform and rural development, and also engaging with the Department of Home Affairs to address this pressing issue.
“Something urgently needs to be done to stem the exodus of these highly qualified and sought-after professionals, provide more tertiary training opportunities for vets in South Africa, and make it easier for foreign vets and foreign South African-qualified students to practice here,” Ndudane emphasises.
Recent alarming statistics indicate a significant number of vets leaving the country, resulting in a severe skills shortage in a profession critical to ensuring food safety and security. “A recent survey by the South African Veterinary Association found that a fifth of young vets aged 25 to 29 polled intended to emigrate,” says Ndudane.
“Our own records show that we are losing up to 150 vets a year to emigration, as there are between 10 and 15 vets a month requesting letters of good standing from the SAVC to enable them to practice abroad – be it temporarily or permanently.”
Safeguarding food security
To remedy the situation, the SAVC is actively collaborating with the government and other stakeholders to reinstate veterinarians on the critical skills list during its next review. This step is crucial not only to meet future animal healthcare demands but also to safeguard food safety and security.
“As more young South African vets consider leaving the country, one solution to fill the skills gap is to encourage overseas-trained vets to come and work here,” explains Ndudane. “However, the removal of vets and veterinary nurses from the critical skills list in February 2022 makes it harder, if not impossible, for foreign vets to obtain a work visa for South Africa.”
Veterinarians who have qualified in the United Kingdom and Australasia are allowed to practice in the country without having to take SAVC exams. However, they must first complete a year of compulsory community service through the government after registering with the SAVC.
“With the removal of vets from the critical skills list, qualified foreign vets are likely to run into difficulties obtaining work permits and posts in South Africa because their skills are not listed as being scarce,” warns Ndudane.
Additionally, foreign students who graduate as veterinarians from the faculty of veterinary science at the University of Pretoria, the only accredited tertiary education institution offering a Bachelor of veterinary science degree in the country, are unable to fulfil the year of CCS necessary to work in South Africa.
“All of this makes it incredibly difficult for foreign vets and students to come to South Africa to add capacity to our veterinary profession, which is facing a severe skills crisis,” says Ndudane.
Crisis in animal health
She emphasises the urgency to address the skills deficit in the veterinary professions to curb the brain drain and ensure the country has enough vets to meet its current and future animal healthcare and food production needs.
The SAVC has also recommended that government considers increasing funding for veterinary education to attract more students into the profession. Currently, veterinary education in South Africa is expensive and, as a result, many students are unable to afford it.
“We need to make sure that veterinary education is accessible and affordable to all South Africans who want to study it. There are many students who are passionate about animals and would like to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, but cannot afford the high tuition fees,” says Ndudane.
In addition to the shortage of veterinarians in the country, there is also a shortage of veterinary nurses. According to the SAVC, there are only around 4 000 registered veterinary nurses in the country, which is far below the number required to meet the demand for veterinary services.
“If we do not act now, we will face a serious crisis in animal health and food safety and security. The government needs to work with us to find solutions to these challenges,” says Ndudane.
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