The veterinary public health professional in an increasingly threatened world
An increased demand for meat and meat products—coupled with climatic changes and the rapidly evolving agro-ecological and land use patterns—will invariably impact the underlying drivers of disease emergence and associated ecological factors. This could result in increased incursions of disease agents and pests in environmental niches shared by animals and humans. It is at this nexus that most of the changes for veterinary public health (VPH) professionals will lie.
Not only will VPH professionals need to deal with the more classical dimensions of VPH that are fairly well known, but also with novel public health challenges that may involve new pathogens, new non-infectious diseases, new clinical signs, new hosts, and evolving disease dynamics. These dynamics will require VPH professionals to look at new challenges with a different lens, one that brings contemporary realities of a warmer, more crowded, and more interconnected world into focus.
While the task is daunting and indeed largely uncertain, it is widely believed that now is the time to explore and to develop the more demanding requirements that VPH professionals will need to deploy so that the potential societal impacts are minimized to the greatest extent possible.
Additionally, in recent past the world has witnessed outbreaks of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1 HPAI) in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The international effort to control and prevent H5N1 HPAI has been truly unprecedented. Highlighting the increasing risk of emergence of pandemic threats has served to raise public awareness on the subject, as well as the need for more multidisciplinary and multisectoral collaboration to prevent or rapidly detect and respond to such threats.
However, whilst the attention to HPAI has served to galvanize a global response, diseases such as brucellosis, rabies, cysticercosis, echinococcosis, leishmaniasis, and many others that continue to cause illness, death, and impose serious burdens, often in the poorest communities, are for the most part left on the margins of health programmes. These neglected zoonotic diseases need to be brought back to the mainstream of public health, particularly in the context of poverty alleviation, economic and food security, and global public health.
In view of the above, professionals trained in veterinary sciences are often the most qualified individuals to deal with these public health issues. Those with training in VPH must be able to develop, implement, and execute public and private health programs designed to prevent and control zoonotic diseases in both animal and human populations. There is, at this moment, an increasing societal need for public health professionals with the competencies, knowledge, and skills to address the multidimensional problems of zoonotic and food-borne diseases.
The new and young generations of veterinary professionals coming out of educational institutions need a good grasp of the overlap between transboundary animal diseases and veterinary public health. This knowledge is not limited to zoonotic pathogens but also encompasses insidious animal diseases and non-infectious health risks that affect people’s livelihoods, social resilience, and food security. Furthermore, VPH professionals need to be acquainted with socioeconomic aspects of animal production and health policies, existing national and international regulations, legislation, new concerns regarding animal welfare, and environmental protection.
In fact, well-rounded veterinarians with specializations, robust trainings, and field experiences in veterinary public health are in a unique position to strengthen and contribute to the expanding work within their national ministries of health and agriculture, public and private institutions and industries with regard to preventing and controlling zoonotic diseases and other health-related risks that originate from animals, their products, and their living environments.