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Protection of human health

Purpose and scope of veterinary public health

Veterinary public health (VPH) is a component of public health activities devoted to the application of veterinary skills, knowledge and resources to the protection and improvement of human health.

In most countries, VPH activities comprise the surveillance, prevention and control of zoonoses, food hygiene and animal-related aspects of the protection and improvement of the environment. Inevitably there are many areas where VPH activities overlap with those of animal health services. This is particularly the case when the two activities are administered by different ministries.

It is important that there is maximum integration if services are to be comprehensive, and full account should be taken of both social and economic factors in the preparation and execution of programmes.

VPH activities

The major activities for VPH in animal production are:

• control and eventual eradication of specific zoonoses;

• prevention of occupational hazards and diseases connected with live animals and their products;

• establishment of diagnostic, surveillance and information systems for zoonoses;

• control of animal populations that may serve as disease reservoirs for humans.

Specific activities in veterinary food hygiene include:

• prevention and control of zoonoses and other diseases transmitted by food of animal origin;

• inspection of food premises, their operations and products, including processing, storage and distribution;

• supervision of abattoir hygiene;

• ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection of meat and poultry;

• prevention and control of chemical residues in food, including veterinary drug residues;

• supervision of export and import of food of animal origin from the hygienic viewpoint;

• collaboration with epidemiological services in surveillance, data collection, evaluation and distribution of information;

• participation in investigations into food-poisoning outbreaks.

Activities connected with the environment include:

• control of zoonoses of environmental origin;

• control of vertebrate and invertebrate vectors of zoonoses;

• safe collection and disposal of dead animals, condemned meat and of other animal wastes, and the control of environmental pollution in animal settlements and animal industries;

• preservation of the urban and rural environment by controlling animal populations;

• use of animals to monitor environmental hazards;

• surveillance and control of infections in wildlife and pet animals that are communicable to humans.

VPH organization

In most countries the VPH unit is part of the Animal Health Service in the Ministry of Agriculture or Livestock, while in a few countries it is located in the Ministry of Health. It is important that, irrespective of its location, it maintains close links with both the animal and human health services.

The VPH unit should be properly provided with professional staff support and equipment. It should be responsible for the planning and preparation of VPH programmes within the country and for the execution of specific programmes, either solely or jointly with other government departments.

VPH in primary health care

Veterinary public health has a fundamental role in primary health care. The establishment of a satisfactory human health status in many countries requires, inter alia, greatly improved control and, if possible, the eradication of zoonoses. Many zoonoses have not only a direct impact on human health, but also cause the loss of large quantities of food. Therefore they are important economically, as well as socially. Improved human-animal-environment relationships are also extremely important for achieving an acceptable state of global health.

Effective control of zoonoses and other VPH problems cannot be achieved without significant primary health care contributions. This requires community education and participation in the prevention and control of zoonoses; in keeping animals healthy and productive; in producing abundant, sound food and in preparing and preserving it properly; in establishing and maintaining correct human-animal relationships; and in protecting the environment so that it does not deteriorate to the disadvantage of humans and animals.

Meat inspection and abattoir hygiene

This is an important veterinary public health function. The veterinarian who has knowledge of animal disease, as well as training in veterinary public health, is the best person to supervise or carry out this function. In large abattoirs there should be veterinarians to carry out the ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections and supervise the general hygiene of the abattoir. Properly trained meat inspectors should assist the veterinarian in these tasks. Meat inspection, even at the small village slaughtering points, should still be the responsibility of the veterinary authorities. The veterinarian in charge of public health at an abattoir is responsible for:

• ensuring that hygienic practices and cleaning are carried out;

• ante-mortem inspection. This is done to prevent the slaughter of diseased animals, to detect diseases such as rabies that would probably not be noticed at post-mortem inspection and to ensure animal welfare;

• post-mortem inspection. This should be done on individual animals. It is essential that all parts of the carcass are correlated so that a balanced judgement can be made. 130th the ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections should follow the methods described in the Codex Alimentarius Code of Practice;

• ensuring that meat passed for human consumption is handled in a hygienic manner;

• ensuring that conditionally passed meat is treated to render it safe for human consumption;

• ensuring condemned and contaminated material is correctly treated to render it safe and not be a hazard to humans or animals;

• the safe disposal of the abattoir wastes;

• implementing the laws governing meat inspection and hygiene.

Protection of animals

Ensuring humane treatment of animals in general

It is the professional duty of veterinarians to safeguard the welfare of animals at all times. When engaged in field activities the humane treatment of animals should always receive attention, and remedial action should be taken in cases where animals are made to suffer unnecessarily.

Welfare standards in markets, during transport and slaughter

Acceptable standards of welfare are important at markets and during transport in relation to injuries, stocking densities, feeding and watering arrangements, tethering of animals, etc., and should receive attention. Any legislation covering the humane slaughter of animals should be enforced.

Control of laboratory animals

When live animals are used for research or diagnostic purposes, high standards of welfare should be observed and any unnecessary suffering avoided. In countries that have legislation to protect laboratory animals, it should be rigidly enforced.

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