7 April 2020

Animal health service: critical to COVID-19 response

As part of efforts by governments to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world have implemented measures restricting businesses, public services and the movement of people. In Brooke countries of operation, animal health practitioners are still delivering essential services to animals and communities, despite severe constraints.

Brooke urges governments to invest in animal health systems and recognise the importance of animal health practitioners in managing the current outbreak and preventing future pandemics.

Dr Klara Saville, the Head of Global Animal Health Welfare and Community Development at Brooke said:

Veterinarians and other animal health workers are a critical part of the global health community and are a vital asset in responding to COVID-19.

Beyond the activities veterinarians undertake to support the health and welfare of animals, they also have important roles in disease prevention and management and in ensuring food safety.

Access to animal health services, including medicines is critical to maintaining the health of livestock, working and companion animals, all of which play important roles in supporting human health and wellbeing.

Brooke has first-hand knowledge of the vital role that horses, donkeys and mules play across the developing world in supporting food production, water harvesting and distribution and the transportation of essential goods. All of these things are even more critical during and immediately following emergencies, which means it is vital to ensure that working equids can receive essential care and treatment at this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the historic failure of the international community to take animal health and welfare seriously. 

Dr Saville continued:

As the World Organisation for Animal Health has stated, around the world and especially in low income countries, veterinary services are chronically under-resourced against all comparative measures. This results in the loss of countless animals and the risk of uncontrolled epidemics, including ones like COVID-19 which directly affect humans.

Global Action Plan

A global action plan to address these persistent challenges in animal health is essential to preventing the growing risk of infectious diseases like COVID-19 and the daily impact of endemic zoonotic diseases. The animal health sector can play its part alongside human and environmental health, but the international community must commit to develop and implement a global animal health action plan first. This should include:

  1. Closing the veterinary services gap by training and employing more vets and para-vets and improving the quality of training to ensure it meets international standards.
  2. Establishing a list of essential veterinary medicines and vaccines, which would, like the human equivalent, identify the medications that vets and para vets should have access at all times in sufficient amounts. 
  3. Ensuring laboratories and veterinary public health institutions have the funding, staff, facilities and equipment to identify and monitor animal diseases to improve prevention and treatment.

This action plan would also help ensure that vital veterinary and other animal health professionals are valued for the role they play in both treating animals and protecting people.

Further reading 

Dr Klara Saville writes about how supporting animal health systems could prevent the next pandemic