The current state of the Veterinary Services Department, under the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), Ghana, remain a sorry testament of successive governments’ lip service to the development of agriculture as a national strategy for tackling youth unemployment, food security, national biosafety and biosecurity.
For decades, the otherwise important service, has been reduced to the most abysmally funded and poorly resourced institution within the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. You do not need the expertise of a rocket scientist to know this. A casual visit to any of their offices in the regions, would affirm this assertion.
To be fair, blunt and accurate, the public veterinary establishment is not fit for purpose, when we talk of animal health and zoonotic disease prevention, especially within the the framework of International Health Regulations (IHR-2005) in these worrying COVID-19 era. In this age of routine air travel and disease multipliers born of human behaviours, a public health crisis anywhere in the world is a potential problem everywhere. COVID-19 is a classic example.
On April 27, 2020, on one of his regular personal interactive tours of frontline agencies within the constituency, to support them with hand hygiene equipment (Veronica buckets on stand), face masks, hand gloves, detergents and hand sanitizer among others, Hon Benjamin Komla Kpodo, Member of Parliament for Ho Central Constituency, in the company of his colleague, Hon Bedzra, MP for Ho West, paid a visit to the Volta Regional Veterinary Department, to present the staff with a quantity of face masks, bottled liquid soap and hand sanitizer, as he has done across the constituency since the COVID-19 pandemic broke.
In his interaction with the staff, numbering about ten, and touring the animal laboratory, Hon Kpodo identified the extreme importance of the Veterinary Services Department to any realistic strategy of the government to combat the spread and to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in the long term. Zoonotic diseases are very common in Africa, Ghana and around the world. Scientists estimate that more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.
Coronavirus is a zoonotic disease; transmissible between animals to humans and vice versa as many others. It is therefore imperative that every effort is made from this outset, to prevent a human-to-animal transmission in our jurisdiction, failure which could portend dire and calamitous public health consequences for Ghana for years to come. To this end, Hon Benjamin Komla Kpodo bemoaned the utter neglect and non-involvement of the Veterinary Services Department in the COVID-19 combat strategy. The fact that a few of the department’s laboratories are being used for testing for COVID-19, does not suffice the objects and standards of the International Health Regulation (IHR-2005, which placed an obligation on parties to strengthen and maintain core capacities for disease detection, assessment, reporting, and response and for states to develop the legal and regulatory mechanisms, physical infrastructure, human resources, and tools and processes necessary to ensure all obligations to be met, all the way down to the community level. This demands long‐term cooperation across disciplines and sectors.
Interacting with the staff, it became apparent that the Volta Regional Veterinary Services Department and perhaps the entire service, has been woefully resourced in terms of personnel, work tools and even personal protective gear to carry out their duties. Retired staff have not been replaced for nearly a decade. Only a handful of the Vets we interacted with, wore homemade nose masks. Indeed, a staff was observe working on a sick dog without a mask, hand gloves or just any protective gear for the prevention of cross-infection. Hon Bedzra, in particular was alarmed at this development and questioned the staff. The visit to the animal lab revealed more depths of the deplorable conditions under which our Vets work in the regions.
If our government is truly committed to its flagship project; Rearing for Food and Jobs, we need a very resourced and efficient Veterinary Services Department to see that policy through. In the long term, the government needs to pay adequate attention to animal health; disease surveillance and control as a crucial component of the holistic public health strategy, if we are going to succeed in the fight against coronavirus and other infectious zoonotic disease. Enough of the knee-jerk action in dealing with issues of national importance.
Writer: George Kwaku Yeboah