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Why veterinarians are essential health staff

 Kenya Veterinary Association personnel fix the button like device on the cows at Al Leboi village. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Today is World Veterinary Day, occurring on the last Saturday of April every year. On this day, veterinarians all over the world go out to provide free services to the community while promoting the greatness of this noble profession.

Veterinary medicine is among the world’s oldest professions. If history is anything to go by, the domestication of animals certainly gave rise to this profession as animals needed medical attention. However, veterinary medicine as we know it today has its roots documented in the first veterinary school in Lyon, France, established in 1761. Necessity being the mother of all inventions, the opening of this school aimed to prevent, control, and later eradicate a serious animal disease called Rinderpest – a viral, deadly disease with very high mortality rates. The disease was decimating millions of cattle at the time, necessitating its study, the development of medicines and vaccines, and ultimately its control.

As I write this piece, Rinderpest is archived in veterinary medicine annals as the first-ever livestock disease to be declared eradicated from the globe, alongside human smallpox. It may appear that a veterinarian’s main job is focused solely on animal health. This is not entirely true; while veterinarians do treat animals, their ultimate role is to ensure public health safety. Human beings have coexisted with animals since time immemorial, engaging in nutritional, social, and economic interactions. Therefore, it’s evident that animal well-being is closely linked to that of humans. This concept has found a home in contemporary society marked by emerging and re-emerging diseases, many of which are shared between humans and animals (zoonotics), thanks to the phenomenon of climate change. This has prompted scientists to reconsider disease prevention, control, and eradication, resulting in the emergence of a new concept: the One Health Approach, where animal and human doctors, environmental experts, and social scientists form a united front in battling disease pandemics.

This year’s World Veterinary Day is celebrated under the theme – “Veterinarians are Essential Health Workers.” This theme aptly highlights the One Health Approach, which places veterinarians at the forefront of combating emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases. Indeed, veterinarians are essential health workers, ensuring not only the safety but also the nutritional value of the meat consumed. As we celebrate this day, we must recognise that veterinarians’ competencies should be regarded as an essential and integral part of public health. The application of veterinary science contributes not only to animal health and well-being but also to human physical, mental, and social well-being. In the current harsh economic climate, the well-being of farmers and their livestock is crucial, and veterinarians play a vital role in maintaining this balance. Unfortunately, this dimension of veterinarians’ work often remains invisible to society, resulting in poor remuneration for those in the public service and low regard for those in private practice.

Did you know that veterinary medicine is among the most intensive courses at university? Yes, in veterinary school, students learn about various aspects of health, from the origin of life in embryology to the framework of all living beings in comparative anatomy, and the workings of medicines in pharmacology. Moreover, they study diseases in populations through epidemiology and public health, and in their final years, they get the opportunity to perform surgeries on animals. This year, all veterinarians under the Kenya Veterinary Association, currently chaired by Dr Nicholas Muyale, will gather in Isiolo County to provide free treatment to animals and educate the public on animal husbandry.[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and currently the head of communications at FAO-Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO but his own]

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