Following new outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, the chairman of the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC), Dr Alfred Kgasi, says the country has made little progress in training and retaining more vets.
This, as Mzansi continues to lose its vets to countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand where their qualifications are in high demand.
Experts say the shortage of local veterinarians has compromised the implementation of animal disease control and risk mitigation measures.
Internationally, there are between 200 and 400 veterinarians per million inhabitants, but in contrast, South Africa has only between 60 and 70 vets for the same number of inhabitants. The government says there just isn’t enough money to employ more vets.
Zolani Sinxo: With the upsurge in animal disease outbreaks across the country, many farmers are worried about shortages. Are we making progress in addressing Mzansi’s dwindling veterinary workforce?
Doctor Alfred Kgasi: Unfortunately, the situation continues with little respite. This is all the more critical given the recent outbreaks of livestock diseases that could massively affect food security and farmers’ livelihoods. The reality is that we only have one veterinary school in the country; and which produces about 170 vets a year.
The lucrative opportunities that exist for young veterinary graduates abroad further compound the problem. We need to have strong discussions and be intentional about how to increase the number of vets in the country.
This will require exploring the possibilities of expanding veterinary faculties to meet the needs of the country. There is no doubt that veterinary education is expensive, but we must think with vision and determination how to meet the current and future needs of the country.
Last year, the Free State was reportedly hardest hit by a shortage of state veterinarians. Is the problem more prevalent in certain provinces?
The problem is national in general, but more apparent in provinces with higher livestock populations where herd health services are essential to support livestock production.
There is also a disproportionate distribution of veterinarians in urban areas compared to rural areas. The majority of rural farmers depend on livestock for their livelihoods and food security. Limited access to veterinary services results in unnecessary production losses and public health risks.
How are the government and the SAVC approaching the issue?
The SAVC does not control, within the framework of its legislative competence, the number of veterinarians produced in the country. However, the SAVC will continue to engage with affected stakeholders to find ways to resolve this issue.
We are aware that there are ongoing developments around the possible establishment of another veterinary faculty in the country.
As a veterinary regulatory body, we have openly shared our Self-Assessment Framework with interested parties, which outlines the process for evaluating existing and new veterinary schools. We do not intend to meddle in the process, however, we will provide support and information to assist interested training institutions with their planning and due diligence.
Our shortage of veterinarians seems quite critical compared to the rest of the world…
A reality is that we still have one of the lowest numbers of vets per capita compared to European countries which have an average of 0.38 vets per 1,000 inhabitants. [according to a 2018 survey of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe].
Funding for veterinary education must be increased and a concerted effort must be made to recruit students, especially from previously disadvantaged communities, into veterinary science. Black communities are still very little aware of veterinary services and the essential role that veterinarians play in society.
This is a historic issue that needs to be addressed as greater awareness is needed to profile and elevate the profession in these communities. The awareness and practice of primary animal health care is still limited in most historically disadvantaged communities, which has a negative effect on the success of animal production in these communities.
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