COVID-19 has reminded us that "we are one" and an opportunity has come to refocus on our health policies. Health sector sans borders and asks for cross-border collaboration. Across the world health oriented research transits from basic sciences to the veterinary and medical fields. Various sectors like the ones of medical, pharmaceutical and veterinary offer direct health services while other related sectors like agriculture, forestry and environment provide indirect services to the animals and human. All these fields have been forced to communicate, collaborate on and coordinate activities for "One Health" initiative. There has been a dream to see these sectors co-ordinate. During the current COVID-19 crisis when everything looks bleak, a ray of hope is visible through the collaborative and co-ordinated efforts of professionals from diverse fields to mitigate this pandemic. Such joint efforts could finally turn fruitful when COVID-19 vaccines were developed. Though a new wave of Covid-19 has started and has affected many more lives and economies again, furthering of set efforts and SOPs already proposed need to be followed.
Veterinarians (Vets) being an integral and essential part of the global health, offer diverse roles not only related to the health and welfare of animals but prevention, management and control of zoonotic diseases as well. Their role in ensuring the healthy food and its safety in no way can be ignored. Veterinary care for food animals ensures their good health and thus, to food safety. This also supports agricultural livelihoods and the viability of our farms. All these roles would rather make the routine work of the Vets but the current COVID-19 crisis has unmasked their potential and utility beyond that too in an effective way. To commemorate their role to the society, this year World Veterinary Day (WVD) is themed with "The Veterinarian Response to the Covid-19 Crisis".
Vets across the globe are engaged in research to understand the ecology of emerging zoonotic diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans. COVID-19 being an infectious disease with animal origin, joint efforts from vets and other associated professional like medicos offer a long term solution to these problems. A desire since the inception of COVID-19 pandemic has been "when we have the vaccine" is fulfilled now and has got its basis from the coronavirus vaccine of animals, previously developed. It is important to mention that COVID-19 vaccine cannot be considered to be 100% effective in everyone. Vaccinated people are also prone to infection, albeit with much smaller chance. They may not become sick but can contract virus and spread to the other people. Recently, COVID-19 vaccine (Carnivac-Cov, Russia) too has been developed for vulnerable animals (cats, dogs and minks) with a motive to prevent mutation of the virus.
Vets are well equipped with the scientific knowledge to handle the virus and perform associated diagnostic tests. As such the Vet man-power and their hospital machinery have really helped in testing COVD-19 timely. Considering veterinary curriculum and their acquaintance to the personal protective equipment (PPE), state or other administration across the world including of the J&K had put them to the task to ensure 'isolation' and other standard operating protocols (SOPs) to be implemented. Vets have now also been roped in to undertake the vaccination program. Seeing the reluctance of some of the sections in the society towards COVID-19 vaccination, vets are the potential candidates to guide and educate the common people why and how there can be vaccination failure and what can be repercussions, if any. Vets are not new to vaccination programmes as immunization in veterinary practice has been going-on since decades.
Apart from these extended roles, vets aren't immune to this pandemic in their own curriculum. Various vet clinics had moved to ensure essential and emergency services, if not the routine. For non-emergency services, vets including those from veterinary hospital at faculty of veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry, SKUAST-K offered services through telemedicine. Some of the vet hospitals had moved to client 'concierge' service like human hospitals did to limit person-to-person interaction. On the academic point of view, protection of students, staff and faculty has been ensured without compromising the SOPs of the pandemic. As vocational education and training (VET) systems were impacted, an online curriculum of education had been adopted to impart education timely and guide researchers without compromising the social distancing. Further, being part and parcel of the society with scientific background, vets role in maintaining the mental health and ensuring social distancing can't be ignored. In time of crisis, ones opinion matters and if it comes from doctor, results are more fruitful.
Now as second COVID-19 wave has started, it is crucial to priorities the activities in the veterinary sector. It's imperative for the veterinary regulatory bodies to oversee the integrity of animal and public health through veterinary services in order to ensure:
In nutshell, Vets are self-less scientific people who take care not only for dumb creatures but for the society as a whole.
Dr Mudasir Bashir Gugjoo is Assistant Professor, FVSc & AH SKUAST-Kashmir