26 April 2024

New list will help get the right medicines in the right hands at the right time

Shereene Williams, Senior Manager of Global Animal Health, marks World Veterinary Day with a look at how a new Essential Veterinary Medicines List for Food Producing Animals came to be, and why it's expected to make a large impact.

Today is World Veterinary Day and we celebrate the role of vets as essential health workers, in animal, human and environmental health. However, to fully put their knowledge and skills into action, vets must have access to essential medicines and vaccines.

Earlier this month, Brooke and the World Veterinary Association launched the world’s first essential veterinary medicine list for food producing animals, which includes horses and donkeys. The list which contains 270 medicines and has been three years in the making, is the product of incredible global veterinary expertise, passion and commitment to improve animal welfare.

For me, this global, multispecies project began with one horse in Ethiopia. As I stood alongside my colleagues Abdi and Melese around a gravely injured horse who had been attacked by a hyena, we realised that we had very few medicines to treat it with. We did the best that we could by cleaning the wound and administering an antibiotic that is actually more appropriate for cows and sheep and then used paracetamol from our own first aid kits to provide some pain relief. We are all used to treating animals in low resource and challenging settings, yet this experience left us all shaken and dejected. For all the knowledge and skill that surrounded that poor horse, our treatment fell short. He needed more from us.

We soon realised that this was not unique to this area or even to Ethiopia. Globally Vets are struggling to gain access to the medicines and vaccines that they need to do their job. In a survey in 2021 conducted by Brooke and the World Veterinary Association, 80% of vets felt that challenges in accessing veterinary medicines restricts vets ability to address animal health in their location.

In human health, the World Health Organisation is clear that the first step in improving access to medicines is for each country to design its own essential medicine list, detailing the key medicines and vaccines that are needed to provide a satisfactory level of healthcare. To support this, they designed the first model essential medicines list in 1977 which is updated every two years. However, no equivalent exists in animal health, until now.

Brooke and WVA formed global expert working groups with veterinarians and organisations who volunteered their time and expertise. Working together online and across different times zones to create and review essential medicines and vaccines for eight different species.

‘You cannot acquire what you do not know is missing'

There are 82 essential medicines for horses and donkeys, 60 of those medicines are also essential for at least one other species. The vets and paravets that Brooke work with in the field commonly treat all species and there are far more cows, sheep, goats and pigs in the world than horses and donkeys. Consequently, it may be easier to advocate for the availability and use of medicines for another species, such as cows, knowing that those medicines that vets can easily access and are comfortable using are in turn more likely to be available for working horses and donkeys. The list also highlights which medicines and vaccines are solely for equids and therefore need our focused attention. 

‘We need the right medicines in the hands of the right people at the right time’

We are incredibly proud to have led the development of the first essential veterinary medicine list for livestock alongside the WVA. This list is the product of global veterinary expertise and collaboration and is an important first step in ensuring all animals around the globe have access to medicines and vaccines to keep them healthy and minimise pain and suffering. 

To our amazing supporters, thank you for helping us improve veterinary care around the world and for ensuring that working equids are not forgotten. 

To my veterinary colleagues, thank you for your unwavering support and sharing your vast expertise for this important project. 

Happy World Vet Day!