Disparities in veterinary sector needs attention
India has around 65,000 veterinarians while the requirement stands at 120,000, which needs to be fulfilled immediately. The country also lacks well-equipped functional laboratory facilities for quick diagnostics, shortage of high-tech ambulances for animals is also a major issue especially in rural areas where it is of utmost importance. The veterinary infrastructure in India’s rural areas requires more strengthening. The Government of India has recently announced Rs 13, 343 crore for control of foot and mouth disease (FMD) and brucellosis which are very common diseases. This could be marked as a positive move which will further strengthen the veterinary sector.
Veterinary health sector focuses on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, disorder and injury in animals, both domesticated and wild. In India, animal medicines are mostly used by the livestock sector which includes poultry (eggs, broiler meat), cattle (milk), fisheries (fish), and the meat industry handling goat meat, pork meat and buffalo meat. Significant market led opportunities have recently been observed for the livestock sector as a result of globalisation and economic liberalisation policies initiated by the Government of India in 1991. As per the report by the government of Tamil Nadu, livestock production is growing faster than any other agricultural subsector and by 2021, this sub-sector is predicted to produce more than half of the total agricultural output in value terms in India.
However, despite the pharmaceutical sector attracting a lot of attention due to its high-profile and lucrative nature, its cousin the animal health sector failed to receive equivalent attraction by the government. There are certain shortfalls in India’s veterinary sector that need to be addressed in order to propel its growth.
“If we compare our veterinary sector with the western world, then we are way behind. There are major issues that need quick attention if we want to enhance the growth of this sector.
For one, there’s a huge shortage of vets. India urgently requires 120,000 vets, but we have only 65,000 to do the job. One major reason behind this shortfall is that presently India has only 55 functional veterinary colleges, with an average of 60 students emerging from each institution.
Reason? One third of them either drop out or switch to the medical profession which offers better career opportunities”, reveals Dr Chandan Kumar, Scientist and Course Coordinator, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.
Shortage of vets
Unlike medical practitioners for humans, there are not many denizens that get attracted towards the veterinary stream leaving the animal health sector in quandary. Since the demand for the veterinary courses is less, there are only 55 veterinary colleges in the country. Moreover, these colleges and institutions offer syllabus that teaches very less about wildlife at undergraduate level. There are a very limited number of colleges such as Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Wayanad, Madras Veterinary College, Chennai etc. that offer post-graduation courses on treating wild animals.
In October 2019, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) highlighted this issue when they wrote to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) stating that in many tiger reserves of the country there is a big shortage of veterinary doctors and they are banking on the services of local government veterinarians.
Elaborating further, Kunal Dev Sharma, Director, Max Vets Hospital stated, “In India, the scenario of veterinary wildlife is very bleak as the entire course structure revolves around the livestock. If someone wishes to learn more on veterinary wildlife then he has to opt for a specialised course offered by limited institutions
or he has to do it from abroad.”
Another issue that is hampering the growth of India’s veterinary sector growth is the quality of practitioners. Unlike human medical institutions where students are selected after various screening and competitive exams, veterinary colleges don’t have such a refined system in place hence a person with an average ranking can easily enroll for such courses.
Dr Sandeep Karkhanis, Managing Director at Noveltech Feeds said, “It is very hard to find quality veterinary professionals in India because of their preferences. Most of the quality vet practitioners opt for government jobs as they feel that this is the most secure position. The one who joins the private sector doesn’t stick long because most of the time they are just there before they land into a coveted government vet job.”
Rural vet infrastructure requires enhancement
There is a lot of disparity between urban and rural veterinary infrastructure which is a major concern. According to the 19th livestock census, the population of India's livestock has declined by 3.33 per cent and the population of indigenous cattle has decreased by 8.94 per cent. These figures reveal that immediate attention is needed so that veterinary infrastructure can be elevated in these areas. The condition of veterinary hospitals in rural areas is very poor and in general, one veterinary hospital handles at least 4-5 villages. Dilapidated buildings, limited staff, unavailability of needed medicines, delayed services etc. force the animal keepers to go to private hospitals putting extra burden on owners’ pocket.
Uttar Pradesh, one of the biggest states of the country, has a large cattle population but yet, the state has on an average one veterinary hospital for 21000 animals. As a result of the shortage of medical facilities, many animals lose their lives.
“Most of the veterinarians also need to perform non-clinical administrative work that includes organising training camps for farmers, distribution of fodder, preparing health certificates for animals etc. this reduces their clinical practices and puts extra pressure on them. It is necessary to free veterinary hospitals from all other duties other than health check,” said Dr Kumar.
There is also a strong requirement of a multispecialty veterinary hospital at district level. In 2018, Indian Veterinary Research Institute
(IVRI) set up its first multi-specialty veterinary hospital in Bareilly, UP. This hospital is equipped with facilities such as minor OT, delivery room, X-ray, Ultrasound, CT scan, screening laboratories, Endoscopy, Dialysis unit, seminar room, ICU etc. Similar setups are required to be installed at various district levels so that poor farmers can get benefitted by them.
Absence of such facilities and unavailability of veterinary professionals, force owners to go to para-vets. These para-vets are not fully trained so the possibility of them giving erroneous medication to the animal is more which might prove fatal to the animal. According to Indian Veterinary Education Act 1984, a para-vet can only give basic treatment.
“In India, the scenario of veterinary wildlife is very bleak as the entire course structure revolves around livestock. If someone wishes to learn more on veterinary wildlife then he has to opt for a specialised course offered by limited institutions or he has to do it from abroad.”
- Kunal Dev Sharma, Director, Max Vets Hospital
“It is very hard to find quality veterinary professionals in India because of their preferences. Most of the quality vet practitioners opt for government jobs as they feel that this is the most secure position. The one who joins the private sector doesn’t stick long because most of the time they are just there before they land a coveted government vet job.”
- Dr Sandeep Karkhanis, MD, Noveltech Feeds
“There are major issues that need quick attention if we want to enhance the growth of this sector. For one, there’s a huge shortage of vets. One major reason behind this shortfall is that presently India has only 55 functional veterinary colleges, with an average of 60 students emerging from each institution.”
- Dr Chandan Kumar, Scientist and Course Coordinator, JNU, New Delhi