On 19 June the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) hosted their Annual Indaba at Pheasant Hill in Pretoria. The theme for this year’s Indaba was Primary Animal Health Care (PAHC). The South African Veterinary Council is the regulatory body for the veterinary and para-veterinary professions in South Africa. According to Dr Clive Marwick, president of the South African Veterinary Council, PAHC can be summarised as the basic principles of animal health that all farmers in the animal production sector, need to know.

Dr Clive Marwick, president of the South African Veterinary Council, at the Annual Indaba.

To hear more about the SAVC and the topics discussed at the Indaba, listen to the interview below with Dr Clive Marwick that was broadcast on RSG Landbou.

Throughout the day various speakers shared their perspectives on what PAHC entails and how they form part of this important concept. Dr Thireshni Chetty, a SAVC councillor, gave insight into the challenges that Compulsory Community Services (CCS) veterinarians face in areas with poor state facilities. The aim of CCS vets is to improve animal health in areas that have the least access to such services whilst also giving those who graduated as vets an opportunity to get experience in the industry before practicing in their own capacity.

Tips for CCS vets

Dr Chetty shared various tips to help CCS vets to help farmers in resource poor areas. For example, it is important for rural farmers to implement biosecurity, but they have limited resources. Something as simple as washing hands before handling animals can be curtailed by the lack of access to water in these areas. Dr Chetty said that instead of using water to wash hands aloe plants that often grow abundantly in fields can be used as a natural disinfectant.

Dr Chetty further discussed the role of the various tiers of animal health to mitigate disease outbreaks. “As secondary health issues only include interventions implemented after a disease is suspected, and tertiary animal health points to interventions that are implemented after a disease have been confirmed, the cost implications of these two animal health tiers are by far the highest.”

She added that, first and foremost, vets need to understand what tier they are working in when talking about primary animal health care and that more emphasis needs to be placed on primary interventions. “The most cost-efficient stage of animal health is still found in preventative action. Therefore, we need to place more emphasis on effective primary healthcare that doesn’t depend solely on governmental support but rather prioritises contextual solutions.”

Dr Thireshni Chetty, a SAVC councillor, gave insight into the challenges that Compulsory Community Services (CCS) veterinarians face in areas with poor state facilities.

Effective communication

When it comes to principles of practice, Dr Chetty said that CCS vets make use of the same principles that are used in private practice and are also subject to similar obstacles. “When it comes to effective communication, we as veterinarians need to change how we relay important messages to the rural community so that conversations between practitioners and animal owners result in changed behaviour,” she explained. 

Dr Chetty also elaborated on the importance of problem identification, problem solving skills and the necessity of trust between veterinarians and animal owners. “First responders, clients and animal owners help us to manage disease control. However, if they don’t trust us it will take longer for diseases to be reported. We need to focus on trust and communication so that we are viewed as reliable problem solvers that offer invaluable advice. Biosecurity systems in these areas doesn’t need to be complicated and can be as simple as separating a sick animal from the rest of the herd,” she concluded.

The role of animal health technicians

Titus Makgato, chairman of the South African Association of Animal Health Technicians, discussed the role animal health technicians (AHT) play in improving PAHC in rural areas. He explained that animal health technicians are the first line of defence in managing animal diseases and also the primary representatives of veterinary services to people living in rural areas.

“It is required that animal health technicians be vigilant, knowledgeable and give adequate support that display high standards of professional ethics,” he said. “AHT are rural farmers’ first point of contact with vets and help them with basic animal health practices.”

Adapting to your environment

Dr Jubie Muller, a vet from Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal who also represented the Ruminant Veterinary Association of South Africa (RuVASA) at the Indaba, discussed the role of rural veterinarians in advocating PAHC. He shared his experience as a private vet working in  a very remote area, Okhahlamba in the Uthukela district near the Lesotho border, where clients travel very far to get veterinarian services.

Dr Jubie Muller, a vet from Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal and a representative of Ruminant Veterinary Association of South Africa (RuVASA), discussed the role of rural veterinarians in advocating primary animal health care .

Listen to the interview below that was done with Dr Jubie Muller at the function to hear more about this topic. Please note the interview is in Afrikaans.

Working together and communicating with rural settlers and other veterinarian professional is the key to offering viable solutions to that community, says Muller. “A lot of rural communities have little knowledge of disease prevention, appropriate shelter and nutrition. They also have limited access to educational material in their home languages. In response to our unique environment, we have found ways to communicate efficiently by use of different visual aids and animal samples to explain procedures and make a diagnosis,” he explained. – Claudi Nortjé and Ursula Human, Plaas Media