By Dr D. S. Fofana, DVM, DTVM, MSc.
Former Director General, DLS
Former Chief Veterinary Officer and OIE Delegate
Former W/Africa Regional Rep. Commonwealth Veterinary Association
The national policies and priorities identified for the improvements in animal health and production can only be achieved by an effective veterinary service with the capacity to deliver well-coordinated, effective, responsive services to the fast-growing livestock industry. Moreover, recent advancements towards compliance with international standards in trade and food safety will necessitate continued support of the Veterinary Services in the country throughout. The on-going lively debate on the very recently developed Comprehensive Draft Animal Health Bill 2019 at the National Assembly is a testimony of the importance members of the Assembly attach to the livestock sector. This bill, when enacted, will replace the archaic and obsolete Animal Disease Act 1944.
For those who may not be familiar with the role of a veterinary service or a veterinarian apart from injecting cows and donkeys, let me brief you on some of its functions. The veterinary service is responsible for animal disease control through diseases surveillance, rapid alert systems, movement control, diagnosis and vaccination campaigns; develop contingency plans to control trans-boundary animal diseases; food safety through meat inspection at slaughter facilities and collaboration with Food Safety and Quality Authority; import control and related matters; international trade in animals through certification; sanitary measures at slaughter facilities and animal markets; regulations on importation of veterinary drugs, reagents, and biological products, Animal Welfare, etc. It should also conduct training and advisory service to farmers in best animal health and welfare practices. I cannot over-emphasise the need for well-trained human resources i.e. veterinarians and para-vets to perform the above-mentioned duties as per required international standards.
Therefore, allow me to raise the alarm through your widely-read newspaper that there is acute shortage of Veterinarians in the public service in our country. Currently, there are ONLY three (3) Veterinary Doctors in the civil service, one of which is out of the country pursuing a post graduate course and is unlikely to come back. The other two currently occupy the posts of Director General (DG) and Deputy Director General (DDG) who are all based at the Head Quarters in Abuko and are mostly busy with administrative matters. As at now, there is no single Veterinarian in the field to support the field staff as a reference point. This is a serious gap in the wake of a disease outbreak as has happened recently with the Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) outbreak in cattle in the country. Unfortunately, the ANR Policy objective of having a professional veterinarian per Region has been a dream but not been realised. Similar to other African countries, there continues to be a heavy reliance on veterinary para-professionals and sometimes non-veterinary staff at field levels. Therefore, re-establishing a fully functional field veterinary network in compliance with World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards as recommended in the OIE PVS Evaluation Report 2009 is a serious concern for the stakeholders.
There is the need to develop, implement and administer national programmes for disease control for economically significant diseases including Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), Pasteurellosis, African Swine Fever (ASF), African Horse Sickness (AHS), Newcastle Disease (NCD) and zoonotic diseases such as Rabies, Rift Valley Fever and others. Veterinary Services need to develop and deliver programmes for vaccination, prevention and surveillance. Contingency and emergency management plans for diseases including Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD), Avian Influenza or Bird Flu, Rinderpest, Rift Valley Fever (RVF) and ASF also need to be developed. The field veterinary network is needed to properly implement the animal health programmes, surveillance and education functions needed to support the national priorities.
For now, the PVS Gap Analysis 2012 by the OIE recommended that the country needs 22 veterinarians, including six (6) to serve as Regional Veterinarians, seven (7) in Veterinary Public Health, and the rest with additional expertise working at diagnostic labs, clinics and epidemiology units. Furthermore, to address the limited availability of veterinarians in The Gambia, an exceptional budget (USD 540 000) was developed to support the initial training of 20 Gambian veterinarians to return to work under contractual obligation in the Veterinary Services for a 5-year period but none of this has been implemented. Before and during my tenure as DG of the Department of Livestock Services – DLS (2015 – 2018) many training proposals for veterinarians and related technicians have been submitted to Government through the Ministry of Agriculture but none of them materialised as it never seemed to be a priority for the past and present Governments.
In conclusion, agriculture remains very important to the economy of The Gambia contributing approximately a third of the GDP while employing three (3) out of every four (4) Gambians. Developing the livestock sector is a national priority and it plays a role in food security and poverty reduction. However, The Gambia continues to import more of its foods of animal origin each year in the face of high incidence of animal disease and mortality. Veterinary Services must be provided the necessary resources, human and financial; to develop the professional capacity to deliver the services needed to improve animal health and productivity as well as to ensure that all
Gambians have access to adequate safe food of animal origin.
I am aware of the on-going debate amongst the stakeholders about creating a separate ministry of Livestock (removed from under the Ministry of Agriculture) as in many neighbouring countries for the livestock sector to be given its deserved attention in order for us to exploit its full potential. May that happen soonest under a progressive government.