TODAY -

World Veterinary Day, 2024
Veterinarians are essential health workers

Dr K Rashbehari Singh *



The 2024 World Veterinary Day will be celebrated on the 27th April, 2024 on the theme, 'Veterinarians are essential health workers' and is an opportunity to celebrate efforts from veterinarians, veterinary associations and others to demonstrate the competencies of veterinarians as an essential and integral part of health at large. Veterinary profession contributes not only to animal health and well-being but also to physical, mental and well-being of people.

ESSENTIAL SERVICES

Essential services are commonly defined as those services whose interruption might inflict substantial harm on the population at large. Emergency medical professionals, police, firefighters are paradigmatic examples of essential service providers.

Roles played by the veterinarians in protecting and advancing human, public, and environmental health are less recognized by the public, however, they are essential to the continued well-being of people and animals at the local, national, regional, and international levels.

In protecting human health through the diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases, clinical veterinary practitioners are often at the forefront. Veterinarians also work in communities in which the economic well-being of the human population is dependent on animals for transportation, labour, or food, but also in communities in which the emotional well-being of the human population is strongly impacted by the human-animal bond. Making veterinary services non-essential may lead to serious public health issues.

ESSENTIAL WORKERS

Essential workers are those whose work is vital for the core functions of the economy and society and who can’t work remotely due to the nature of their jobs. Essential workers were called on to meet basic needs during the COVID-19 crisis. They made vital contributions throughout the pandemic.

During COVID-19 pandemic, the veterinarians played a critical role in protecting animal and public health, safeguarding our food supply, monitoring for zoonotic pathogens, and supporting biomedical research, and countermeasures, such as development of COVID-19 diagnostics, and vaccines. Veterinary practices had consistently been designated as an essential health- care service throughout the pandemic and veterinary professionals adapted and responded to the recommendations to keep clients, patients, animal healthcare teams, and veterinary and veterinary technician students safe.

VETERINARY HEALTHCARE WORKERS

Veterinarians, veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians, and veterinary client care service representatives are the veterinary health care workers. They provide care at veterinary clinics, zoos, kennels, pet stores, stables, and shelters. They trim nails, clip hairs and bath animals; disinfect and clean both equipment, and the living spaces of animals, to keep them safe and healthy; interact with animals; play with them and observe their behavior; record any information needed on the animals’ overall health; monitor and record details of their diet, physical condition and behavior on the lookout for signs of illness, depression, or other symptoms that may require further care; and train animals to respond to commands.

The health and welfare of animals is safeguarded by veterinary service providers round the clock. Not taking care of the health and welfare of the animals, will negatively affect the health and welfare of humans. The meat, humans consume, is safe through meat inspection, proper treatment and management of animals by veterinary service providers.

ESSENTIAL SERVICES PROVIDED BY VETERINARIANS

i) Meeting challenges of livestock health: The contemporary roles of veterinarians go far beyond prevention and treatment of animals as the world becomes intricately inter- connected and more complex. Demand for livestock products increases as the world population grows and middleclass income rise. However, there are certain high impact diseases that do not allow animal husbandry to flourish. Certain diseases impact the performance of farm animals, leading to lower production performance and associated financial losses due to mortality and morbidity.

For farm animals, most appropriate herd health management practice accor- ding to local and regional agro-ecological contexts should be advised to the farmers. This will address treatment, preventive measures, housing, feeding, management, and environmental sanitation. Correct herd management practices will likely reduce the usage of veterinary medications and care, thereby reducing input and labour costs, which in turn positively influence farm productivity and profit margins.

Veterinarians make sure that healthy animals are exported, imported and distributed, thus preventing the risk of introducing detrimental, high- impact diseases into distant regions or neighbouring countries. Veterinarians also share responsibilities for biosecurity. They are key players on bio-defence and thus national security, food chain safety, and animal and human welfare.

ii) Environmental health: The knowledge of toxicology, epidemiology and ecology are used by veterinarians in diagnosing, treating, and preventing environmental diseases that can affect both humans and animals. They also promote environmentally conscious animal husbandry practices.

iii) Disaster management: During natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and cyclones, veterinarians provide emergency veterinary care to animals affected by these disasters, by working together with local authorities and animal welfare organizations. They also provide shelter and food to animals in need, and reunite lost animals with their owners.

iv) Management and prevention of zoonotic diseases: Veterinarians contribute tremendously to preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, brucellosis, avian influenza, and leptospirosis. For protection of public health, they work with public health officials to monitor zoonotic diseases, conduct diagnostic tests, and implement control measures such as vaccination programmes.

Approximately 75 per cent of emerging human infectious diseases are zoonoses. Veterinarians play an important role in early detection of zoonotic diseases of pandemic potential and managing them before they jump into the human population. When left unchecked, the zoonotic diseases cause severe suffering for animals and humans. In pandemic control programmes, the risk management schemes and preventive measures put in place by veterinary teams play an essential part.

Lockdown and regionalization are very common practices for animal disease outbreaks, but for humans COVID-19 related lockdowns were a novel experience. When we suspect a potentially infectious disease, immediate restrictions are put down on the farm, and when the case is confirmed, movement of animals are controlled within 3 km and 10 km zones, to minimize the potential spread of an outbreak.

v) Animal welfare: Veterinarians play roles in management and treatment of livestock and companion animals, ensuring that animal welfare standards are maintained. There is potential for domestic companion animals and livestock to be abandoned or mistreated in the mistaken belief that they play some role in transmission of certain diseases such as COVID-19. Veterinarians ensure that the public has access to accurate and scientifically based information and that ongoing care of animals is possible.

vi) Public health veterinarians: Public health veterinarians inspect meat, poultry, and dairy products, test for livestock disease, and oversee interstate transport of animals. They investigate food-borne disease outbreaks, evaluate the safety of food and water, and study the effects of biological and environmental contamination. Veterinarians in the Army and Air Force provide care for government-owned animals, inspect food, safeguard the health of military and other government personnel, and serve as biomedical research investigators.

vii) One Health approach: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines One Health as a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach – working at the local, regional, national and global levels – to achieve optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. To address global health challenges, collaboration between various disciplines like veterinary medicine, human medicine, and environmental science is needed.

On a global scale, veterinarians have always been a core influential group of health professionals by virtue of their experience, know-how, and responsibility to promote the health and welfare of animals, people, and the environment. They have always been in the frontline of monitoring and zoonotic surveillance of viruses among animal reservoirs. They also successfully applied different types of surveillance methods and sampling strategies in the context of animal infectious epidemics.

In the One Health system, veterinary medicine is integrated into family health care, providing care to nonhuman family members. There are many health benefits of human-animal bond. Interacting with animals can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, feeling of loneliness, anxiety, and symptoms of Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and also can increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, better cognitive function in older adults and more opportunities to socialize.

However, apparently healthy pets sometimes carry germs that can make us sick. Veterinarians have an important role in advising their clients about the risks of potential pet transmission of zoonotic diseases, pet handling and hygiene.


* Dr K Rashbehari Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Member, Manipur State Veterinary Council, Imphal
& Retired Deputy Director (Extension Education),
Central Agricultural University, Imphal
and can be reached at konjengbam09(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 11 April 2024

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