Delegates from fifteen African countries have called for the recognition of the role of veterinary professionals in providing vital animal health to millions of livestock keepers across Africa. This was done at the ongoing first African conference on the Role of Veterinary Para-professionals looking at strengthening the linkages and collaborations between Veterinarians and veterinary-para-professionals to improve veterinary services especially in rural communities.
Speaking during the opening session of the conference, Johan Oosthuizen, the Chairperson of the South African Association of Veterinary Para-Professionals (SAAVP) pointed out that the for a long time the contributions of vet para-professionals have been neglected and the time has come to recognise their existence and give them the opportunity to express themselves. This is because without the participation of the vet para-professionals it would be very difficult to control and eradicate livestock diseases.
Dr Monique Eloit, Deputy Director for the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said that this conference is especially timely because the role of veterinary para-professionals within the system of veterinary governance continues to remain a very relevant matter in Africa. She reiterated that collaboration between key stakeholders is very important to achieve the broader common goal of improving animal health and developing the national economy, as well as the social empowerment of farming communities and food security for the poor.
Africa, a hotbed of vet paraprofessionals
On his part, the chairperson of the Association of Veterinary Technicians in Africa (AVTA) Mr Benson Ameda said that Africa is a hotbed of very vibrant paraprofessionals with potential to work with many rural livestock keepers but they still face a number of challenges and still need to be strengthened to realise their full potential. “If paraprofessionals are fully brought on board, issues of diseases will be a thing of the past,” he said.
Addressing the key issues
Peter Jeffries, the CEO for the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines underlined some of the key issues that still need to be addressed including setting up mechanisms to encourage veterinarians to move to the rural areas, encouraging and rewarding properly qualified Para-vets and Community Animal Health Workers with clearly delineated limits of authority under the authority of a veterinarian, accrediting courses and qualifications for the para-Professionals and monitoring their performance and those of CAHWs.
And in a speech read on his behalf, the South African Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Mr. Senzeni Zokwana said that enhanced economic collaboration in Africa will only be achieved if barriers to inter-trade such as sanitary issues in the animal health sector are dealt with. Veterinary professionals play a significant role in the reassurances needed to ensure that trade in animals and animal products take place. He also cautioned the veterinarians and Para-Professionals against only working to fight animal disease outbreaks but they should also take preventative measures such as extensive vaccinations of animals and educating the public on how to prevent diseases.
Mary Waithera Njogu’s dream has always been to work in biotechnology research but she also loves to work with animals. She is a trained veterinary para-professional having undergone two years of training in animal health production. Having worked privately for a short period of time, Mary experienced first-hand some of the challenges that many veterinary para-professionals face and thus decided to find a way to highlight these challenges and to help grow the network of vet para-professionals in Kenya. She now works with the Kenya Veterinary Paraprofessional Association (KVPA), a body that brings together all vet para-professionals, registers them and looks after their welfare. Part of Mary’s job is to connect para-professionals in Kenya with the association so that they can be officially registered and given a certificate to practice.
Mary is passionate about highlighting the welfare of vet para-professionals because as she puts it, it’s a noble profession with very little pay and sometimes it can be thankless. But the zeal with which she has observed many vet para-professionals undertake their duties, even in the hardship areas, gives her the motivation to continue highlighting this noble profession.
They are the majority
Veterinary para-professionals are the majority in rural Africa offering the much needed services to smallholder farmers. According to KVPA, in Kenya alone, there are only 2,000 registered vet surgeons compared to 6,000 registered para-professionals. This makes the work of vet para-professionals ever so crucial especially in rural areas where the provision of animal health services is still a big challenge.
Vet para-professionals provide services ranging from disease surveillance, artificial insemination, treating sick animals, vaccinations and extension services amongst others. However, by law, most of them have to work under the supervision of a qualified veterinary surgeon. And there lies the challenge, because veterinary surgeons are hard to come by, especially in remote rural areas. Most of the trained veterinary surgeons in Africa choose to work in government institutions. The few who venture into private practice are usually found in urban or semi-urban areas. This leaves the millions of smallholder farmers in rural communities who need their services in a precarious situation, often losing animals because of lack of animal health services.
For decades now, the vet para-professionals have filled this gap. And to many of their clients, there is hardly a difference between the vet surgeons and the para-professionals. Many of them interact more with the para-professionals and probably have never encountered a vet surgeon. At the end of the day, all they need is for their animals to be treated, vaccinated or inseminated.
A myriad of challenges
In reality and by law, at least in Kenya, there is still a difference in the way the vet para-professionals are handled, which could impede their work. The law requires that a vet para-professional must work under the supervision of a qualified vet surgeon. This makes it challenging for them to set up their own private practices to serve the clients who need their services most. And with the limited number of qualified vet surgeons, it’s still hardly practical that they will all get to work under the supervision of a vet surgeon.
Most of them also work under harsh conditions with limited support. They lack protective gear and laboratories to undertake diagnostics. And yet at the end of the day, they are expected to deliver services to farmers professionally. That is why associations like KVPA are important, so that the para-professionals can have a voice that represents their issues to higher authorities and also work with other willing parties to provide the necessary equipment that the para-professionals need to effectively conduct their duties. For Mary and her colleagues at KVPA, this important task should be brought to the forefront so that the welfare of all para-professionals in Kenya is well taken care. Some of the issues currently being lobbied for include the provision for the para-professionals to work independently, education and training opportunities and an independent regulatory body that is dedicated entirely to vet paraprofessionals, although this proposal is not in line with current international guidelines.This blog post is part of a series discussing the importance of veterinary para-professionals to poor livestock keepers in Africa and South Asia. The first African veterinary para-professional conference with a continental focus will be held from 13-15th October 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa. The event is co-hosted by the OIE and GALVmed.
Ciru and Ciku are your typical small-scale farmers. They both live in Keringet, Nakuru Country in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Ciru is a small-scale vegetable farmer and a trader while Ciku, like most women in the village, combines farming with rearing indigenous traditional (kienyeji) chickens.
Some of Ciku’s chickens do not survive yearly disease outbreaks. It is now an accepted way of life for her. However, the last few months have been good and her flock steadily increased to 40 chickens of various ages.
However, one winter morning, she noticed that the chickens appeared to be a bit sluggish and had not taken their feed and water. As usual she thought nothing of it. The following day, she noticed some of the chickens had nasal discharge, greenish diarrhoea and appeared to be dancing around. Later that evening, she consulted her friend Ciru about the problem.
They called the district veterinarian the next day to see what could be done. Unfortunately, the district veterinarian was away attending a county East Coast Fever vaccination campaign and was not due back until three days later. By the third day, Ciku had lost 30 of her chickens and the remaining ones were very sick and appeared to be twisting their necks – the classical symptom of the fatal Newcastle disease!
Later in the market that evening, the women heard a village school teacher advising the locals to vaccinate their poultry to protect their chickens against the contagious disease. They were told about a local extension officer in Keringet who had obtained a certain vaccine known as the ND I-2 vaccine and vaccinated some household chicken flock – protecting about 60% of the village flock.
Ciku’s story is one of many in African communities. More than 70% of livestock producers in Africa are located in small villages with seasonal access roads and poor infrastructure. Agrovet shops are few and far between and animal health drugs, when available on weekly markets days, are of questionable quality. Most villages have at least one resident extension livestock officer, or veterinary para-professional (VPP), referred to locally as daktari, similar to the one who helped vaccinate chickens against ND in Keringet. These VPP’s are often poorly motivated and ill-equipped, especially to deal with disease outbreaks. However, they are the front line contacts for most livestock farmers on disease matters. And although they are not veterinary doctors, VPP’s play significant roles in extension education, disease surveillance and diseases management. What is required is structured training, proper certification and effective supervision to ensure that VPP’s can provide basic animal health services to prevent the kind of losses sustained by the likes of Ciku.
This blog post is part of a series discussing the importance of veterinary para-professionals to poor livestock keepers in Africa and South Asia. The first African veterinary para-professional conference with a continental focus will be held from 13-15th October 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa. The event is co-hosted by the OIE and GALVmed.
With aggregate estimated population comprising 300m cattle, 1.8b chickens, 35m pigs and 650m sheep and goats, livestock production in Africa is important to the livelihood of millions of people in Africa (FAO Statistics 2013). Animal disease is one of the major constraints of production. Hence animal health service delivery is very critical because of the relative shortage of (qualified) veterinary surgeons, predominantly extensive production systems, the sheer size and distribution of the rural areas, weak infrastructure, poor logistics, limited access to inputs and markets, low awareness and the consequential lack of oversight or supervision. Under this condition, the role of veterinary para professionals, including in some countries community-based animal health workers becomes paramount. The use of community-based animal health workers(or CAHWs) has been widely experimented in Africa, in situations of peacetime, and in areas of conflict e.g. Somalia, South Sudan, Karamoja region of Uganda, Mali, etc.
Defining vet para-professionals
The Veterinary Para-Professional (VPP), according to the glossary of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Code “is a person who, is authorised by the veterinary statutory body of a country, to carry out certain designated tasks in a territory, delegated to them under the responsibility and direction of a veterinarian.”
Different categories of veterinary service providers therefore come under the classification of VPP. The role for each category of veterinary para-professional should be clearly defined, according to need by the veterinary statutory body depending on the qualifications, training, category or the para-professional. However, the registration, recognition and incorporation of the services of veterinary para-professionals, including CBAHW vary between countries. According to an OIE report, some countries mainly in Africa do include “community-based animal health workers” as being part of the veterinary-paraprofessionals and register them as part of the veterinary workforce while others do not. In addition there are discrepancies between countries in the classification, training curriculum, scope of practice and the level of supervision of VPP’s. In order to bridge this gap and promote linkage between veterinary surgeons and VPPs, the OIE in partnership with the Africa Veterinary Technicians Association (AVTA) and the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) is organising the first Para-professional conference which will be held October 13 – 15, 2015, at the St Georges Hotel, Irene, Pretoria (Gauteng Province), South Africa.
Nearly 100 participants including representatives of OIE, GALVmed, Au-IBAR, African Veterinary Technicians Association (AVTA), South African Association for Veterinary Para Professionals (SAAVPP) will participate. The conference will bring together a limited number of national associations of VPPs, representatives of well-functioning and OIE compliant Veterinary Statutory Bodies in Africa, Directors of Veterinary Services, and advocates of improved veterinary services together. Other stakeholder institutions including the AU-IBAR, FAO-ECTAD, international livestock organisations, and regional economic commissions in Africathat have demonstrated great interest in the subject of animal health service delivery. In addition, to organisations involved in livestock services such as the Vétérinaires sans Frontières and NGOs involved in livestock support services will be represented. Representatives from outside Africa will share experiences in the evolution of CAHW in Asia.
The conference will promote linkage between professional veterinarians and veterinary para professionals while providing forum to address various OIE topics that are relevant to VPP including the fact that their operations are implemented under the supervision of veterinarians, whether private or public, as indicated in the OIE standards. The conference programme will also include contributions on the use of CAHWs in remote or conflict areas, where “regular” veterinary services are either not available or have been disrupted, although the main focus will be promoting normal interaction between vets, VPPs and (trained) farmers, i.e. as CAHWs. In addition, the conference is expected to provide guidelines for the operationalisation of VPP associations while proposing modalities for the recognition, registration and standardisation of the training module and classification of veterinary para-professionals.