Equipping South African vets to take the best care of their animal patients
The veterinary profession is a noble one – promoting the health and well-being of all animals.
Just like humans need doctors, animals need medical care. Veterinarians act as advocates for pets, livestock and wild animals who cannot speak when they are suffering.
That’s why the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) is joining the World Veterinary Association (WVA) and other global animal health organisations in honouring and celebrating veterinarians locally and worldwide on 30 April 2022.
The WVA initiated World Veterinary Day in 2000 to recognise the contribution veterinarians make to society. It is observed on the last Saturday of April every year.
The oldest record of veterinary medicine dates back to 3000BCE* when a man named Urlugaledinna in Mesopotamia was named as an expert at healing animals. The first veterinary school was established in 1761 in Lyon, France, by Claude Bourgelat, paving the way for the modern-day animal health industry.
This holistic “ecosystem” consists of veterinary and para-veterinary professionals – such as animal health technicians, veterinary technologists, veterinary nurses, laboratory animal technologists and veterinary physiotherapists – all working together to ensure optimal animal health.
Veterinarians work passionately to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and disorders in animals. They are expected to maintain and promote the prestige, honour, dignity and interests of the profession, serving the public and animals using the latest research and scientific knowledge.
This important role can be physically and mentally taxing.
Hence, this year’s World Veterinary Day theme is “Strengthening veterinary resilience”, to draw attention to the health and well-being of the people doing the work, a subject that may sometimes be overlooked but is essential to the smooth functioning of the industry.
The theme is particularly topical in the South African context, considering the country’s shortage of veterinary professionals.
Many South Africans do not have access to veterinary care, especially in rural areas. The international standard is between 200 and 400 veterinarians per million of a country’s population, while South Africa only has between 60 and 70 vets per million people.
As a result, veterinarians often find themselves stretched beyond capacity.
“Stress, burnout and other health issues have risen in recent years, particularly during the pandemic,” the WVA states. “Veterinarians, much like their patients, need proper tools and support to maintain their personal health and wellness. Healthy animals require healthy advocates. Resilient veterinarians are better equipped to handle the daily challenges and crises that may occur in their practices.”
SAVC president Dr Tlotlo Kgasi adds: “The onus is on key players – regulatory bodies such as the SAVC and other animal health associations, institutions and governments – to provide adequate support through collaborative effort and collegiality,” he says.
It would also help if more young people pursued careers in the veterinary and para-veterinary sector.
Dr Kgasi says the SAVC does not control the number of vets the country produces. “The Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria is currently the only institution in South Africa offering training for veterinarians through its BVSc degree. Even then, the campus produces only about 170 graduates a year.”
A veterinary education is expensive, but various solutions can be looked at to increase the number of vets in the country, he notes. This could include exploring the possibility of expanding veterinary faculties to meet the needs of the country.
As a veterinary regulatory body, the SAVC has an evaluation framework for existing and new veterinary schools and would provide support and information to help any interested training institutions in their planning and due diligence, Dr Kgasi adds.
He also believes funding for veterinary science studies needs to be increased and a concerted effort should be made to recruit students into the sector, particularly from previously disadvantaged communities.
Dr Kgasi says there is still “limited awareness” in some communities regarding veterinary services and the critical role of veterinarians in society. “More awareness is needed to profile and elevate the profession in those communities.”
If all critical players join forces to address the various challenges, it would be a weight off the shoulders for many professionals and help to improve the industry, he adds.
“The SAVC hopes to see, in the near future, a more vibrant, inclusive and accessible profession that meets the critical needs of South Africa, its people and its animals.”
*Before the Common Era