Animal health services and products are still out of reach for millions of Small-Scale Producers (SSPs) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). One of the reasons for this is that even though SSPs account for a large number of animal keepers in SSA and SA – 35% of cattle head and 43% of sheep and goat head of world respectively, they are scattered, concentrated in rural areas and operate their production on low input, low output system. This makes animal health service provision challenging. SSPs also have less to spend on animal health further pushing away veterinary service from their reach. A veterinary service provider needs to travel long distances to visit just a few farms and a smaller number of animals, which makes their services costly. Consequently, SSPs tend not to treat their animals or in the instances that they do, they get advice from less qualified people and use low-quality medicines inappropriately. This often leads to bigger issues such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It also means a large percentage of animal heads are dying before maturity or performing below capacity after surviving, in absence of effective and reliable animal health service provision.
Filling the gap
More veterinarians are needed to serve and supervise Veterinary paraprofessionals (VPP) work. But this is easier said than done and has been a problem for decades. The ratio of veterinarians to livestock in African countries is 20 times lower than the developed part of the world like Denmark, France, USA. In India, only half of the required number of vets are available currently. In SSA and SA, a small number of veterinarians along with VPPs are expected to carry out a range of animal health services – from vaccination to diagnosis and treatment. This is a big challenge for public, private, and non-profit sectors involved in overall livestock and poultry development to help a large number of SSPs.
One solution that has been tested is filling this gap with trained community-based animal health workers, who perform basic services like vaccination and de-worming. GALVmed for example has worked with trained community animal health workers in supervision of veterinarians in the delivery of millions of doses of Newcastle Disease vaccines to backyard poultry producers. These projects not only served SSPs at their doorstep but also created sustainable employment in rural areas. However, it is not without challenges; including lack of proper visibility of their operations by few veterinarians, making their work difficult to track to ensure quality.
What next then?
The demand for veterinary services in these regions is only going to increase, but the number of vets perhaps not so. Which is why we need to look at other innovative measures that can help us reach SSPs with services and products. Digital interventions like tele-health platforms have the potential to address some of these requirements, considering the fast growth in the use of the Internet and mobile phones.
Tele-health platforms can quickly connect animal health service providers with SSPs and cut down the unwanted expense in travel and time. Veterinarians can supervise the work of VPPs remotely; diseases and outbreaks can be reported quickly; quality consultation and prescription can stop the use of inferior and fake medicine, and can also help in reducing AMR. Consequently, more animals will survive and produce more to contribute to overall food and nutritional security.
GALVmed is working with partners and veterinary authorities to develop a Telehealth and e-commerce platform with the aim of making products and veterinarian-supervised services available and accessible to SSPs. The Telehealth and e-commerce platform is one of three proposed platforms to deliver a comprehensive, financially sustainable solution that will unlock new opportunities for growth in the animal health industry.
Written by Peetambar Kushwaha, Senior Manager of Commercial Development & Impact, South Asia.