The growing impact of animal diseases in food security, livelihoods, and public health has strengthened the essential need for a strong and well-trained veterinary network worldwide. However, in some parts of the world, particularly in Africa, there is limited availability of veterinarians and human resources, and veterinary services have little, or no, accessibility to many rural areas due to socio-cultural factors.
For decades, veterinary paraprofessionals (VPPs) have served African communities providing a much-needed and affordable animal health and welfare service and playing a vital role in contributing to the work of the veterinary services. Their support to veterinarians in disease surveillance and control enabled the global eradication of rinderpest, a devastating livestock disease responsible for continent-wide famine and poverty. Today, many disease control and eradication efforts, such as the current peste des petits ruminants (PPR) control and eradication strategy, depend on the availability of competent VPPs to ensure the successful implementation and field delivery of controls to achieve nationwide coverage.
At the 23rd Conference of the OIE Regional Commission for Africa, held in Hammamet, Tunisia, from 25 February to 1 March, the results of a survey on veterinary paraprofessionals: their governance and role in improving animal health and welfare in Africa, were presented. The findings show that the 45 responding countries consider the role of VPPs ‘very important’ or ‘important’. However, in delivering a much-needed community service, VPPs encounter numerous obstacles, including, but not limited to, lack of job opportunities, resources and ongoing training as well as inadequate support and recognition from the veterinary authorities. To meet these challenges, ongoing training opportunities, improved curricula (98%), and a regulatory framework (80%) were considered the most important requirements needed to enhance the contribution of VPPs by the reporting countries.
Conscious of these needs, in 2016, the OIE created an ad hoc group on veterinary paraprofessionals to identify desired competencies to be included in a model curriculum. In addition, the OIE’s Sixth Strategic Plan for the period 2016-2020 commits to a better definition of their role, including their education and training.
That was a significant step forwards in the reinforcement of national veterinary services considering that the OIE Terrestrial Code defines the VPP as “a person who is authorised by the veterinary statutory body to carry out certain designated tasks (dependent upon the category of veterinary paraprofessional) in a territory and delegated to them under the responsibility and direction of a veterinarian. The tasks for each category of veterinary paraprofessional should be defined by the veterinary statutory body depending on qualifications and training, and in accordance with need”.
The development of the OIE Competency Guidelines for veterinary paraprofessionals to harmonise minimum competencies, in line with OIE international standards and recommendations, is a demonstration of the OIE commitment to this matter. The OIE encourages countries to implement these guidelines to ensure that the important role VPPs can play is formally recognised. By doing so, their improved contributions to the livelihoods of farmers, landless villagers and pastoralists in rural areas will continue to be assured.