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.