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Contributing to a healthy future

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THE theme of this year's BVA Congress was ‘delivering a healthy future’. A key message to emerge from the meeting, which was held in Liverpool last week, was that vets have vital role to play in helping to ensure such a future, but that there will be some significant challenges to overcome along the way.

Not least among these is having the vision to do it and, discussing global challenges during the congress opening lecture, veterinary peer Lord Trees made a plea for the veterinary profession to engage more fully with the ‘big issues’. Global challenges relating to food security, emerging diseases and climate change had ‘huge veterinary dimensions’ and, he suggested, the profession could do more to help tackle them. In particular, he argued, there is a need to inspire the next generation of vets to ensure that there is ‘a cohort of the profession interested, inspired and involved enough in these big issues to claim our rightful place in dealing with them’. Vets, he pointed out, were doing an excellent job in providing a health service for animals, to the extent that there was much that their medical colleagues could learn from them. However, if the profession limited its activities to looking after animals, it would be hobbling its ability to deliver a healthy future.

Global issues also featured prominently in the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture, given by David Heymann, head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House and chairman of the Health Protection Agency. Discussing the emergence of new diseases, he noted that most of the emerging infectious diseases in people originate in animals and that the most effective way of mitigating the risk to humans is to identify new diseases and address the issues at source. He highlighted the importance of veterinary surveillance and an interdisciplinary approach in identifying new threats, and the need to strengthen diagnostic capacity and surveillance worldwide. There was a particular need to strengthen capacity in developing countries and, he said, the more developed countries had a role to play in helping to achieve this.

Other sessions at the congress made clear that there are more challenges closer to home. Inevitably, the issue of bovine TB raised its head, with the Chief Veterinary Officer for the UK emphasising the need to tackle the disease effectively and suggesting that this is an issue on which the credibility of the UK profession depends. Meanwhile, finding new ways of working to safeguard animal health in the face of shrinking budgets and changing requirements continues to exercise minds and, judging from some of the congress debates, looks likely to do so for some time to come. In a session on sharing responsibility for animal health, the chairman of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, Michael Seals, indicated that, in England, the debate on responsibility and cost sharing had moved on; the concept now being developed was one of ‘supported responsibility’, with industry taking responsibility for animal health with support from government where appropriate. The outcome of the debate on new ways of working and where responsibilities lie will have important implications for how animal health is managed in Britain, as well as practical implications for activities such as TB testing and surveillance.

It was by no means only food animal issues that were discussed at the congress. Other debates considered what more could be done to improve the health and welfare of companion animals and to raise owners' awareness of their responsibilities to their pets, as well as veterinary and animal welfare issues associated with the use of horses for sport. A debate on the shifting gender balance in the veterinary profession sought to dispel some of the myths about how the increasing proportion of women might affect the way it develops in the future.

A report of a question and answer session at the congress involving the four chief veterinary officers of the UK appears on p 338 of this issue of Veterinary Record, and reports of other sessions will be published over the next few weeks. It was clear from the meeting that a healthy future is possible, but that effort must continue to be devoted to making it happen.

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