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Animal health and the human factor

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LAST SUMMER it was Newcastle disease, then it was avian influenza; now it is bluetongue that is the focus of attention, having taken a significant step up into northern Europe. Disease does not stand still, nor does it respect borders, as the past 12 months have amply demonstrated.

The bva has not stood still over the past 12 months either. Its annual report covering developments in 2005/06 has just been published, and copies are enclosed with this week's issue of The Veterinary Record. The report gives an indication of the Association's continuing contribution to the development of policies concerning exotic diseases such as avian influenza, and others, such as bovine tuberculosis, which are firmly established in the uk. That contribution is not confined to policy development but, as the report makes clear, extends to the provision of information for members, politicians, the media and the public. Nor is its policy input confined to issues solely relating to disease control, and other issues discussed in the report include further revision of the veterinary medicines regulations, progress with the Animal Welfare Bill, and continuing debate about the possible implications of a new Veterinary Surgeons Act.

Issues surrounding the availability of vets and the viability of rural practices, and the conditions under which vets are employed by or undertake work on behalf of the state, also featured prominently in the year's activities, and rightly so. It is all very well for the Government to develop strategies for animal health and welfare and for disease surveillance, and essential that it continues to plan for exotic disease outbreaks. However, it is equally important to be able to implement those strategies, which crucially depend on effective partnership and the necessary veterinary infrastructure being in place.

It would be difficult, in a short document, to do justice to all the issues dealt with by the bva during the year. However, the report gives a useful indication of how the bva continues to support the profession in its endeavours to fulfil its various roles in relation to animal health and welfare, and also human health, and of the range of services available to members. Very often, people, and the practical challenges they face, can be overlooked when governments develop policies, and it is people, in the form of its veterinary surgeon members, that the bva works hard to represent.

Work does not stop with the end of one Association year and the beginning of the next, and the significance of the human factor in efforts to safeguard animal health will be an important theme of this year's bva Congress*, to be held in London from September 29 to 30. Entitled ‘Vets, animal health and the human factor’, the congress will examine some of the changes taking place in the veterinary profession and the environment in which it must operate, and the opportunities these changes present. Sessions will consider demographic changes in the profession, which, in recent years, has seen a significant increase in the proportion of female members and an increase in the total number of students entering the veterinary schools, and assess how these changes might affect the way the profession develops in the future. They will consider steps being taken to address current challenges in veterinary education, including initiatives aimed at encouraging a broader socioeconomic mix of students. The results of the latest rcvs employment survey will be presented, with discussion of the implications for future employment.

Other sessions will examine the higher profile being given to animal welfare, both in the uk and internationally, and scope for greater veterinary involvement. The Chief Veterinary Officer and the veterinary director of the Food Standards Agency will discuss opportunities for practitioners arising from changing approaches to animal health and welfare and food safety; a related session will look at contingency planning for exotic disease outbreaks and aim to clarify the role of practitioners in helping to deal with future outbreaks. Further sessions will look at issues surrounding vaccination, and at the changing market for veterinary services in both the farm and companion animal sectors.

All of these topics are interrelated and point back to the fact that, if animal health and welfare are to be protected, an appropriate practice infrastructure needs to be maintained. The emphasis, throughout, will be on finding solutions that can work for practices and prove effective in the longer term.

    Footnotes

    • * Congress details and registration forms are available at www.bva.co.uk/congress, or from the bva, 7 Mansfield Street, London w1g 9nq, telephone 020 7636 6541, fax 020 7436 2970

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