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Issue no 04, 27April - 03 May 2024

Recognising Veterinarians as Essential Health Workers

Sujeet Yadav

World Veterinary Day is celebrated every year on April 27. This year’s theme:  ‘Veterinarians are essential health workers’ underline their importance in veterinary health-care. This theme underscores the significance of veterinarians as indispensable contributors to global health. While their role primarily focuses on animal health, their impact extends to human physical, mental, and social well-being. Despite the pervasive nature of their work, societal recognition often over-looks the vital role veterinarians play in safeguarding public health and ensuring food safety.

Veterinary Public Health

In the realm of public health, there exists a crucial yet often overlooked discipline: veterinary public health. This specialised field focuses on the application of veterinary science to protect and enhance human well-being. At its core lies the recognition of the intricate interplay between human and animal health, particularly concerning diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans, known as zoonotic diseases.

Zoonotic Diseases: Zoonoses constitute a significant portion of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), posing substantial challenges to global health. These diseases naturally transmit between vertebrate animals and humans, presenting a continuous threat to public health systems worldwide. Examples of zoonotic diseases encompass a diverse range, including rabies, echinococcosis, taeniasis/cysticercosis, food-borne trematodiases, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis.

The Complexity of Control: Addressing zoonotic diseases necessitates a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach that transcends traditional health boundaries. Veterinary public health interventions often involve collaborative efforts between human and animal health sec-tors, as well as engagement with other relevant stakeholders. These endeavours aim to control and, where feasible, eliminate diseases at their animal reservoirs, thereby mitigating their transmission to humans.

Veterinary public health initiatives encompass a wide array of interventions tailored to specific diseases and contexts. Some notable examples include:

·       Mass vaccination campaigns and population management strategies for controlling rabies transmission, particularly in canine populations.

·       Implementing proactive measures, such as tethering dogs, to prevent contamination of the environment and halt the spread of dracunculiasis.

·       Deworming programmes and vaccination efforts aimed at reducing the prevalence of echinococcosis and taeniasis/ cysticercosis in animal populations.

·       Enhanced husbandry practices and targeted treatment regimens to address food-borne trematodiases and schistosomiasis.

·       Collaborative approaches involving both human and animal health sectors to combat diseases like human African trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis.

The Urgency of Action: The burden of neglected zoonotic diseases falls disproportionately on marginalised populations in low-resource settings. The statistics are sobering, with someone succumbing to rabies every nine minutes in low- and middle-income countries. Recognising the urgency of the situation, government and non-government agencies world-wide, with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO), are committed to reducing the impact of these diseases through strategic collaboration and evidence-based interventions.

Strategic Approaches: Efforts to combat neglected zoonotic diseases entail a range of strategic approaches, including:

·       Assessing societal burdens and evaluating the cost-effective-ness of intervention strategies.

·       Facilitating collaboration and raising awareness among govern-mental and non-governmental organisations operating at the human-animal-ecosystems interface.

·       Developing evidence- based guidance and tools for disease surveillance, prevention, and control.

·       Building capacity and providing technical assistance to countries to implement integrated strate-gies.

·       Promoting information ex-change and fostering multi-sectoral dialogue to bridge gaps between agriculture, health, and other relevant sectors.

·       Advocating for increased investments in prevention, control, capacity strengthening, and research activities.

Farm to Fork: Veterinary Services Ensuring Food Safety

The journey of food from ‘farm- to-fork’ is a familiar notion, often encapsulating the process from agricultural production to consumption. However, this concept extends beyond mere logistics and encompasses critical aspects of food safety and public health. Veterinary Services, comprising governmental and non-governmental organisations responsible for implementing animal health and welfare measures, play a central role in safeguarding the integrity of the food chain.

Role of Veterinary Services in Food Safety: Veterinarians, equipped with comprehensive education and training in animal health and food hygiene, play a pivotal role in ensuring food safety throughout the farm to fork continuum. Beyond veterinarians, various professional groups including analysts, epidemiologists, and food technologists collaborate to implement integrated food safety approaches. The responsibilities of Veterinary Services encompass:

·       On-farm interventions to maintain hygienic conditions and prevent disease outbreaks.

·       Surveillance and treatment of animal diseases, including zoonoses, with a focus on public health significance.

·       Inspection of slaughter-houses to ensure the safety and suitability of meat products.

·       Certification of animal products for international trade, attesting compliance with animal health and food safety standards.

·       Investigation and remediation of food-borne disease outbreaks, in collaboration with human and environmental health professionals.

·       Collaboration with stakeholders to raise awareness and promote adherence to food safety mea-sures throughout the food chain.

To maximise their contribution to food safety, veterinary services must adhere to high standards of education, training, and professional development. Clear delineation of responsibilities and a well- defined chain of command within Veterinary Services are imperative for effective governance. Furthermore, collaboration with other relevant agencies ensure a coordinated approach to addressing food safety risks.

The One Health Approach

The COVID-19 pandemic, stemming potentially from an animal- origin virus, underscored the importance of the One Health concept in comprehending and mitigating global health threats. Commonly employed to coordinate multisectoral efforts in preventing, preparing for, and responding to zoonotic diseases-those transmissible between animals and humans or vice versa-this approach is vital for managing priority diseases like rabies, avian flu, and viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola. Additionally, various interconnected challenges such as antimicrobial resistance, food safety, climate change, and fragile healthcare infra-structure require a multidisciplinary approach, which the One Health framework facilitates.

One Health represents a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach aimed at achieving optimal health outcomes by recognising the interconnected-ness of people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. This approach operates at various levels, from local to global, acknowledging the intricate relationships between human, animal, and environmental health.

In recent years, the importance of One Health has become increasingly apparent due to various factors reshaping interactions between humans, animals, plants, and the environment. Rapid population growth and expansion into new geographic areas have led to increased contact between humans and both wild and domestic animals. Additionally, changes in climate, land use practices, and international travel and trade have facilitated the spread of existing and emerging zoonotic diseases, which are diseases capable of transmission between animals and humans.

One Health issues encompass a wide range of challenges, including emerging and reemerging zoonotic diseases, neglected tropical diseases, vector-borne diseases, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), food safety, environmental contamination, and the human-animal bond. These issues pose significant threats to public health, agricultural sustainability, and ecosystem integrity.

At the heart of the One Health approach lies effective communication, coordination, and collaboration among stakeholders in human, animal, and environ-mental health, as well as other relevant sectors. This multi-disciplinary collaboration involves professionals from diverse fields such as medicine, veterinary science, ecology, public health, agriculture, and policymaking. By fostering partnerships and know-ledge sharing, the One Health approach maximises collective expertise to address complex health challenges.

Veterinary science and services play a pivotal role in the One Health approach, serving as a bridge between human and animal health. Veterinarians, alongside other professionals in the veterinary sector, contribute expertise in disease surveillance, outbreak investigation, preventive medicine, food safety regulation, and environmental health monitoring. By leveraging their knowledge and skills, veterinary professionals contribute significantly to achieving the overarching goals of One Health.

State of India's Veterinary Sector

In India, the veterinary sector stands as a linchpin in sustaining the health and productivity of the nation's expansive livestock population, estimated at a staggering 536 million. Despite being a global leader in milk, meat, and egg production, the sector grapples with formidable challenges, including a shortage of approximately 55,000 veterinarians and inadequate infrastructure, with only 31% of veterinary facilities equipped for optimal care. However, amidst these hurdles lies immense potential for growth, as evidenced by projections indicating a 7.5% CAGR in the veterinary market between 2020 and 2025. This trajectory is underpinned by surging demand for animal products, with milk and meat consumption expected to rise by 4.5% and 4.6% CAGR, respectively. Heightened aware-ness regarding animal health and a burgeoning pet population further fuel this growth trajectory. While challenges persist, strategic investment and concerted action hold the key to unleashing the full potential of India's veterinary sector, ensuring its pivotal role in fostering both animal and human well-being while propelling economic prosperity.

Key Challenges in the World of Veterinary Science and Services

Veterinary science is fraught with challenges, and one of the most pressing issues facing the industry today is the proliferation of illegal veterinary medicines. These illicit products, which encompass counterfeit, falsified, unregistered, and unapproved parallel imports, pose significant risks to animal health, human safety, business reputation, and global trust in veterinary medicines.

The dangers associated with illegal veterinary medicines extend beyond their lack of efficacy and safety for animals. There are grave concerns regarding the potential transmission of zoonotic infections to humans through food derived from animals treated with these unauthorised products. Moreover, the improper use of these medicines contributes to antimicrobial and anti-parasitic resistance, further exacerbating public health threats.

Illegal veterinary medicines are not confined to specific regions but represent a pervasive problem affecting both developed and developing countries. With the rise of e-commerce and international trade, facilitated by the ease of online purchasing and shipping, the trade in illegal veterinary medicines has surged. This illicit trade undermines regulatory efforts and compromises the integrity of the animal health industry on a global scale.

Combatting illegal veterinary medicines requires a multifaceted approach involving collaboration among stakeholders, including animal health companies, enforcement agencies, customers, and other relevant parties. Drawing on lessons learned from the pharmaceutical industry, several recommendations have been proposed to tackle this complex issue effectively.

Key Recommendations:

·       Develop a compelling narrative emphasising the safety implications of illegal veterinary medicines for animals, people, and society. Engage key stakeholders through targeted communication strategies to drive behavioural change and discourage the use of illicit products.

·       Elevate the priority of action against illegal veterinary medicines and support initiatives aimed at prosecuting offending traders and illegal online platforms. Enhance collaboration with enforcement agencies to bolster efforts in identifying and penalising perpetrators.

·       Establish an industry-wide database to track incidents involving illegal veterinary medicines and analyse trends in their distribution and usage. Disseminate findings to raise awareness and facilitate proactive measures to combat illicit trade.

·       Implement measures to distinguish regulator-approved out-lets for veterinary medicines, both physical and online. Enhance the adoption of fraud prevention technologies, such as tamper-evident seals, to safeguard product integrity and bolster security measures.

Other Challenges

Veterinary Workforce Shortages: Many regions face shortages of qualified veterinary professionals, particularly in rural and underserved areas. These short-ages can impact access to veterinary care for both animals and humans, compromise disease control efforts, and strain existing veterinary services. Addressing workforce shortages require initiatives to attract, retain, and support veterinary professionals, as well as expand educational opportunities.

Technological Advancements: While technological advancements have the potential to revolutionise veterinary practice, they also present challenges related to implementation, training, and accessibility. Incorporating new technologies such as tele-medicine, genomic sequencing, and advanced diagnostic tools require ongoing education and adaptation within the veterinary profession.

Globalisation and Trade: The globalisation of trade in animals and animal products has led to increased movement of pathogens across borders, posing challenges for disease control and bio-security. Veterinary professionals must navigate complex inter-national regulations, trade agreements, and disease surveillance systems to mitigate the risks associated with global trade.

Addressing these universal challenges require collaborative efforts from veterinary professionals, policymakers, researchers, and stakeholders across sectors. By working together to develop innovative solutions, implement best practices, and prioritise animal and public health, the veterinary sector can effectively address these complex challenges and ensure a safer, healthier future for animals and humans alike.


The contributions of the veterinarians extend far beyond animal health, encompassing critical aspects of human well-being, public health, and food safety. By acknowledging them as essential health workers, we recognise their pivotal role in safeguarding public health and ensuring the integrity of the food chain. From addressing zoonotic diseases through veterinary public health initiatives to ensuring food safety from farm to fork, veterinarians exhibit a multidisciplinary approach that transcends traditional health boundaries. More-over, in the face of pressing challenges such as the pro-liferation of illegal veterinary medicines, workforce shortages, and the complexities of globalisation and trade, recognising veteri-narians as essential health workers becomes imperative. By providing them with the necessary support, resources, and acknowledgment, we empower veterinarians to continue their indispensable contributions to a safer, healthier future for animals and humans alike.

(The author is a Delhi-based correspondent for an international multi-media platform. Feedback on this article can be sent to feedback.employmentnews@

Views expressed are personal.