It is time the practice of veterinary medicine was given due recognition
One billion of the world’s poorest people depend on livestock for food, income, companionship, cultural practices and identity. It is estimated that 80 per cent of Kenyans derive their livelihoods directly or indirectly from livestock.
Animal species are found across Kenya’s highlands and in the Arid and Semi-arid Lands. Their production across seasons position the sector as an insurance offering compensation when crops fail.
At the centre of the livestock sector are veterinarians whose job is to safeguard the health of animals.
In Kenya, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine was the first to be established in what is now the University of Nairobi, where it was set up as a satellite campus of the University of Eastern Africa in 1962.
This was in part necessitated by colonial settlers’ need to have enough livestock health experts to assist in safeguarding their exotic breeds suffering from tick-borne and viral diseases.
In the recent past, the livestock sector has been faced with many challenges, among them the emergence of diseases transmissible between man and animals like Avian Influenza, Rift Valley Fever and Rabies.
These diseases continue to pose a threat, not only to livestock keepers, but to the public at large and to the national economy.
Increased cross-border movements of people and increasing contact between man and animals and other human explorations have resulted in the emergence of epidemics, most of them unknown to humanity but with the potential to claim lives.
These challenges have necessitated the development of new approaches in the management of disease outbreaks.
The role that veterinarians play cuts across human and animal health and there is a need for a collaborative working relationship between vets, human medical and social scientists in times of disease, in what is now commonly referred to as the One Health Approach.
This approach seeks to adopt a holistic approach in the management of diseases, especially those shared between man and animals.
A killer disease like rabies, which is common in veterinary realms, has often been misdiagnosed in clinics, resulting in mismanagement and loss of lives.
While farmers play a major role in the spread of avian influenza through risky behaviour which is part of their culture, a vet or a doctor may be unable to change attitudes, a task best be carried out by social scientists.
In the same way that the livestock sector has faced challenges, so have veterinarians. The colonial legal framework that was supposed to guide the practice of the profession was quickly overtaken by events upon independence, and has largely become retrogressive.
This has created disastrous loopholes which are exploited by unscrupulous individuals to wreak havoc in this sector.
The result has been the development of drug resistance which is costly to farmers and the country, at one point locking out Kenyan livestock and their products from international markets.
The misuse of animal drugs has been rampant and has crossed over to the human food chain in the form of drug residues.
The privatisation of the veterinary services through the Structural Adjustment Programmes without a clear guiding framework worsened the situation; its effects reverberated far and wide, slowing down the intake of students at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, and hence the training of vets.
The stakeholders in the veterinary realms have lobbied against these challenges to reclaim the important role played by the veterinarians. These efforts have seen the government start employing veterinary medicine graduates after the process was stopped in the late 1980s.
The enactment of The Veterinary Surgeons’ and Veterinary Para-professionals Bill into law in 2011 was a great achievement.
On Saturday, Kenya joined the rest of the globe in celebrating the World Veterinary Day. This was preceded by the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine celebrations on Wednesday.
This adds another feather to the faculty’s cap, as it is the only faculty to celebrate five decades of serving the nation by training veterinarians.
Prof Mulei is the dean, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, while Dr Ouko is the chairlady of the Kenya Veterinary Association.