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Chapter 2: General principles of animal health services

Policy, strategies and priorities
Standards and norms

Policy, strategies and priorities

The animal health services policy in developing countries represents an integral component of overall government, social and economic policies in the fields of agriculture and rural development, public health, food processing and import/export of animals and animal products. In order to obtain the necessary political, economic and public support, animal health services policy should attempt to contribute effectively to the overall development of a country, aiming at improving the standard of living of its inhabitants.

An effective and desirable animal health services policy should first contribute in a practical way to reducing food losses due to animal morbidity and mortality, increasing productivity in animal population/herd yields and draught power, protecting human health against diseases transmissible from animals and ensuring humane treatment of animals.

This policy usually reflects specific social, economic and political systems and philosophies, which are different in each country. The variety of animal health policy includes different animal health services organization and programmes. The spectrum varies from country to country. In some, all activities of the animal health services are carried out by government veterinary staff (completely or partly free of charge). In others, animal health services are private, with the exception of a few veterinary officers in government institutions. However, in the majority of developing countries today, a mixed system between the extremes prevails: preventive and control/inspection programmes are covered by government services while private veterinarians have direct contact with animal owners for the treatment of sick animals.

The animal health services strategy should effectively contribute to the creation of conditions necessary for an uninterrupted animal breeding, production and reproduction process and for other effective utilization of domestic animals for human needs. One of the most important tasks of government services is to protect the national territory against the introduction of exotic diseases.

Animal health services strategy in developing countries reflects the application of general policy. It identifies the concept, priorities and principal objectives of animal health programmes. The strategy should also determine the systems required to achieve these objectives and to solve animal problems in the most effective way. It should respect the country's needs and conditions and stage of development, as well as economic and organizational possibilities.

The strategy should be the realistic outcome of analysis and prognosis of the animal health situation and its development and of the factors that can influence the disease situation and animal health programmes, such as economic, sanitary (public health), social, political, ecological, environmental and organizational conditions.

Decision-making on national animal health strategy is an important responsibility. On one hand it deals with the protection of the health of the human population, and on the other hand with the protection and utilization of the whole animal population and its products in the country. The aim of the strategy is to achieve the best possible results with available resources, or, to achieve its goals with the minimum possible inputs.

There are several different types of animal health strategy, all relating to the specific problems of individual countries. The strategy should first provide general coverage for all animal health service activities and then complement this coverage with specific solutions for selected problems.

Priority should be given both to local strategy, which should be linked with the national strategy, and to long-term strategy, which should be reflected in middle- and short-term programmes.

Animal health services priorities must be determined in each country, as there is no country in the world where conditions exist for solving all problems. Prioritizing problems helps to define effective strategy and programmes.

Identification of priorities also facilitates the concentration of limited resources on the most important animal health problems. The order of priority should be the result of cross-evaluation of biological, economical, sanitary, social and environmental priorities, corrected by feasibility studies and the availability of resources. The availability of effective tools with which specific goals may be achieved under local conditions, as well as the availability of funds, labour and material resources, must be taken into consideration.

It has proved useful first to list the problems according to their rank of importance. Those problems for which no practical or effective solutions or no diagnostic, control, treatment or eradication methods have been found should be moved to a lower rank of priority or postponed for the future. The same procedure should be applied if the necessary resources and other basic conditions are lacking. The priorities should be limited to a realistic number.

Benefit/cost analysis

As an aid to the decision-making process on priorities, a benefit/cost analysis may provide valuable information. A simple comparison of benefits and costs could be made with available data to obtain some idea of priorities in disease control. However, the results may be unreliable. More complex methods using comprehensive economic and social analyses that take into account depressed animal productivity caused by subclinical disease, as well as specific infectious diseases, require additional expertise. (Further details are provided in Chapter 6, under the heading "Economic evaluation".)

If government or donor organization financial support for animal health programmes or projects is to be forthcoming, it is important that their planning be based on sound, comprehensive data and information that can be fully justified and is well-presented.


Organizational principles

Good organization of animal health services is the first precondition for any successful application of animal health strategy, programmes and measures. Organization should accommodate the objectives, programmes and activities in a given country (territory or sector) at any given period of development. It is a fundamental instrument for creating the necessary conditions for the realization of effective animal health service functions.

The organization should be flexible, so that it can adapt, if required, to changes in animal disease situations and conditions. It should create necessary conditions for providing animal health services and applying disease control measures within the limit of the whole country (territory), and it should be ready for action at all times.

Animal health services can be based on the activities of government, enterprises or private veterinary surgeons. All have their advantages and disadvantages. In most developing countries these forms of animal health services exist in different sizes, structures and combinations.

From experience it has been found that centralized organization with vertical operation offers better conditions for national prevention, control and eradication programmes and for protection of the livestock population. It also creates conditions for more uniformity and better coordination of diagnostic methods and control measures for mobilization activities in emergency cases.

A decentralized organization with horizontal operation offers better management conditions for identifying and solving local problems and the treatment of diseased animals and for increasing animal productivity. Decentralized organization creates conditions for closer cooperation with farmers, the meat industry, suppliers and consumers.

In practice, the strengths of both systems are combined to form a mixed organization of animal health services, which is more likely to deliver effective services at both the local and national levels.

Animal health services structure

The structure of animal health services usually corresponds to the general administrative, political/financial structure in the country concerned. Therefore it varies from country to country.

The central animal health service administration, under the direction of the national Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), is responsible for technical activities in the country carried out by government officers. It is usually responsible for technical supervision of private and cooperative enterprise, in the areas of animal disease control, human health protection and/or animal production. As well, it generally has overall responsibility for national veterinary institutes, such as central diagnostic laboratories, vaccine production and control laboratories, national research and training institutes and central storage, and for local-level institutions.

At the local level, provincial CVOs supervise provincial diagnostic laboratories, veterinary clinics, storage and other institutions of provincial importance. Similar structures may also be at a lower organizational level, i.e. at the district level, if such institutions exist.

The most important tier of the animal health service structure is the field animal health service, which is in direct contact with producers, animals and their products. The work done at the village, farm, herd/flock and individual animal levels is decisive for any animal health programme.

Administration is generally facilitated by having staff perform functions for which they have been trained. It is illogical to have trained veterinarians in charge of accounting, transport or secretarial services. Even at higher organizational levels, such as planning or public relations, it is often advantageous for the animal health service to engage competent, trained staff for these posts. In all cases, their work should be directed toward animal health activities and be supervised by the CVO.

General experience suggests that animal health and production extension personnel should operate separately from agronomy extension personnel at the field level. The background and training of personnel in each service are different; combining the two extension functions dilutes their effectiveness for each function.

Standards and norms

Animal health legislation should be supported with standard definitions and structured by national precedent. However, biological and technical standards and definitions should comply with international norms in order to facilitate comparisons and communication between countries.

In preparing national animal health standards, international documents and recommendations should be applied. National standards should complement international ones while respecting local needs and conditions. As examples of international standards, the following documents are pertinent: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Codex Alimentarius, International Office of Epizootics (OIE) International Animal Health Code (rules recommended for international trade in animals and animal products), OIE Manual of Recommended Diagnostic Methods and Requirements for Biological Products and FAO/WHO/OIE Animal Health Yearbook, which includes definitions of animal morbidity, etc.


FAO. 1990. Report of the Expert Consultation on Cost/benefit for Animal Health Programmes in Developing Countries. Rome, FAO.

ILCA. 1984. Financing animal health services in some African countries. Pastoral development network. A. Anteneh. Addis Ababa, ILCA (Livestock policy unit).

PAHO. 1986. Administración de programas de salud animal.

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