Neglect of animal health service providers must end

Olenguruone Sub-County Hospital

Olenguruone Sub-County Hospital in Nakuru County where more than 30 people including children were treated after consuming uninspected meat. A child died. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

Something is terribly wrong with Kenya’s animal health and production service. As an expert in this field, I am duty-bound to blow the whistle and, hopefully, the policymakers and public service will see the need to remedy the situation before it gets out of hand.

Many people know about veterinary services. The majority, however, talk of artificial insemination of cattle when they mean animal health and production service.

I keep correcting people when they introduce me as a “veterinary”, meaning a cattle inseminator.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) even went further with the blunder, categorising veterinary doctors as “semi-skilled”.

This classification makes nonsense of the five years it takes to train such a doctor at university and one year as an intern under the supervision of state-approved institutions and experts.

The classification goes to show how casually the government takes the livestock economy yet it is an employer of millions of Kenyans directly and indirectly as well as a major contributor to Kenya’s GDP.

Large corporate entities like Brookside and Kenya Meat Commission struggle to get the raw inputs of milk and slaughter animals to feed Kenyans and remain in business.

Veterinary doctors and their professional subordinates called paraprofessionals – the equivalent of nurses in human health services – are responsible for the national animal health service.

They work with livestock production and fisheries specialists to ensure Kenyans get meat, milk, eggs and fish that is of good quality and safe to eat.

The public health service of the Directorate of Veterinary Services ensures slaughter animals are disease-free, meat, milk and eggs are of good visual and nutritional quality and are transported properly and hygienically to storage and markets. Once handed over to the storage and market outlets, the Directorate of Public Health of the Ministry of Health takes over the quality oversight.

It is therefore contradictory for the SRC to aver that the role of safeguarding the health of Kenyans has been entrusted to semi-skilled workers.

In addition to the commission’s erroneous categorisation, the animal health and production service is ailed by many other operational maladies.

The service, especially the Directorate of Veterinary Services, is poorly staffed. Retiring or exiting employees are never replaced.

The Directorate has a very skewed aging staff, with big gaps in young cadres. This means the staff are overworked, demoralised, leaching in knowledge, experience and expertise with no discernible plan for succession and continuity of service to farmers and the general public.

The detrimental effects of the dire state of the national animal health and production service have started showing, causing pain to Kenyans.

In the last two months, media reports in Nairobi, Kisii and Nakuru laid bare the suffering of Kenyans due to rabies and anthrax. Some people reportedly died of rabies in Nairobi.

The two diseases are highly preventable and can even be eradicated through diligent and sustained vaccination. Unfortunately with the Kenyan situation, vaccination is sporadic and a knee-jack response to outbreaks.

Interestingly in the Nairobi outbreak, a dog reported itself to our hospital one morning, only to turn out to be rabid.

The animal came and lay outside our open gate facing the hospital, like though pleading for help.

We captured the dog, albeit very cautiously, treated it for some obvious wounds but detained it in case someone claimed it and also to confirm what we could see from a diagnostic distance were signs of the deactivating form of rabies. It is called dumb rabies, where the animal is docile, deceitfully calm and does not bite unprovoked.

The dog got wild five days later and we medically put it down in what we call euthanasia or mercy killing. Tests at the National Veterinary Laboratories confirmed the dog had rabies.

No action was taken by the government to understand if the dog may have bitten people in its sojourn to our hospital and neither was there follow-up to vaccinate dogs.

This is the lethargy that is causing the spread of diseases that were previously easily controlled.

In the Nakuru anthrax outbreak, a boy was reported to have died and 40 people hospitalised with fever, severe abdominal pain, vomiting and bleeding shortly after eating meat from a sick animal.

That is the typical manifestation of anthrax. If not promptly treated, anthrax causes death quickly. We do not know how many more of these infections go unreported, especially in remote areas or diseases like rabies that may occur long after the dog bite.

Diseases spread between animals and humans are called zoonoses. It is a scientific fact that 65-70 per cent of most infectious diseases are zoonotic.

The most effective way of protecting humans from the diseases is to control them in animals. This is more the reason Kenyans should be concerned when the government neglects the national animal health and production service.

On the economic front, many farmers have complained of receiving substandard animal health and production services.

Consequently, they are losing on production and quality of animals. This causes them economic losses through animal deaths, treatment costs, poor production and poor inputs.

It is time for the government to act and restore quality, reliable animal health and production services from the public and private sectors for the benefit of the producers, processors and consumers of animal products.

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