The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is calling on the federalgovernment to acknowledge the important role veterinarians play in societyfollowing Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of a lockdown on ‘non-essential’ businesses and services to curb the spread of the COVID-19.
So far, veterinary services have not been mentioned in either of thegovernment’s two statements on which particular services were designated ‘non-essential’ and would be required to shut down.
“GP clinics and pharmacies were confirmed to be essential from the onset, asthey rightly should be, but veterinary services have been left in the lurch –we urgently need acknowledgement of our ‘essential’ status so we can continueto maintain animal health and welfare without interruption,” said AVAPresident, Dr Julia Crawford.
Veterinarians provide critical services for the care and treatment of allspecies of animals, including companion animals, equine, wildlife, aquaticanimals and livestock. They are pivotal in contributing to public health andbiosecurity systems – which is of the utmost importance at the present time.Veterinarians also have a very specific role in public health at this time,assessing and interpreting the role of animals in COVID-19 and providingsurveillance for other potential zoonoses. Equally essential are the broaderindustry including veterinary nurses, laboratories, pharmaceutical andequipment suppliers and other allied services whose support ensureveterinarians can continue to perform their important work.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World VeterinaryAssociation (WVA) released a joint statement on March 18, advocating for theabsolute requirement that veterinarians worldwide be designated as essentialservice providers in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic. Numerous Europeancountries, US States and New Zealand have already recognised and formalisedveterinary services as ‘essential’.
“The ability of the veterinary profession, in its many forms, to continue toprovide our vital work must be preserved,” said Dr Crawford. “The welfare ofour country’s animals should not be abandoned during the pandemic.”
Veterinarians play an important role in Australia’s economy through foodsafety and security. Government veterinarians and other approved vets fulfilmany critical roles in the livestock supply chain that enable animals to betransported, transacted and processed for protein production in both domesticand export markets. It is essential that these roles can continue to beperformed right throughout any COVID-19 shutdown so that food safety andsecurity are both protected.
Private livestock veterinarians provide vital services that assist inoptimising productivity and
commodity quality in production animals. These services are time-critical andcannot be deferred without potentially serious consequences to the human foodchain. Maintaining meat supplies through abattoirs, as well as dairy, eggs andother livestock commodities must be a high priority. Food safety and securitymust not be compromised.
“Our domestic and international markets will expect that welfare standards inlivestock production will be maintained at all times, vets have a major partto play in ensuring the continuity of food supply and product integrity in thelivestock supply chain,” said Dr Crawford.
“This is well recognised in response policies for other emergency contexts,such as the recent bushfire crisis, food security and integrity must bemaintained at this critical time.”
Veterinarians currently also hold a key role in protecting Australia fromanother global pandemic moving increasingly closer to our borders: AfricanSwine Fever. “If Australia were to be confronted by concurrent human pandemicand an EAD, the scale of the impact on our economy would be unprecedented.Australia must be able to retain veterinary EAD and endemic disease detectionand response capacity before, during and after the COVID-19 outbreak,” said DrCrawford. “Australia cannot afford catastrophic animal health or welfareincidents to occur at a time when public health is already criticallychallenged.”
The AVA call on the government to provide immediate assurance thatveterinarians in private practice, regulatory, inspection, advisory, industryand research roles will be classified as essential service providers in theevent of any shutdown.
“The country needs our vet teams,” said Dr Crawford. “Now more than ever,”
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