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Concern about shortage of vets in SA

Subsidies might attract more vets to open practices in rural areas. File image.
Subsidies might attract more vets to open practices in rural areas. File image.
Image: Raneen Sawafta

In a bid to deal with the shortage of veterinarians in SA, government should offer a subsidy to support vets in rural areas, a dean at the faculty of veterinary science at the University of Pretoria says.

Prof Vinny Naidoo said there was a regional shortage of vets, with many in urban centres and less plying their trade in rural areas.

“This is linked to an ability to make a living, as veterinary fees are private and need to be paid by the client, which is not as easy for farmers as for urban clients. Salaries are dependent on people paying for services as opposed to subsidised government-run facilities.”

The UP is the only institution offering training for vets, with maximum class size of about 200 students.

Pet insurance company Dotsure said it had encouraged students to enter a competition by sending a video or a written paragraph detailing why they want to become a vet and elaborating on the problems they have to overcome to qualify.

“We received many entries and were very impressed with their overall calibre. We could only crown the top four winners, but we’re very proud of every entry we received,” CEO David Roache said.

The four winners shared R110,000 towards their tuition and accommodation.

Naidoo said there was a lot of interest in the field, but UP could not afford to take in more students due to limited capacity and facilities.

A shortage of staff and a lack of clinics to support clinical training was also a problem.

“So there is a relative shortage of vets. The first step in correcting this problem is probably for the government to offer some sort of subsidy to support veterinarians in rural areas. Otherwise we'll likely end up with lots of trained people who can't support themselves or pay back their study fees.

“As far as I know we should have 100 vets per million people. This would translate to about 6,000 vets. At the moment we have about half that  registered in the country.”

As the state does not provide subsidies, vets need to charge for services rendered.

“This is where the problem lies. Rural and developing farmers can't afford the care needed.”

Naidoo said in an attempt to solve the crisis, certain factors needed to be taken into account: 

  • ensure that all compulsory community service (CCS) vets have the facilities, medicines and travel subsidies assigned to provide therapeutic services. No CCS vet should do paperwork or other activities because there is no state budget to care for animals;
  • implement a subsidy to support private vets in rural areas. This will allow vets to open practices in areas where it would otherwise be too expensive to set up a practice; 
  • consider opening more state-run veterinary clinics (not mobile clinics) to ensure daily service delivery in areas that don't have private vet support. Such facilities will have to be run by CCS and senior vets, as CCS vets are still inexperienced; and
  • ensure farmers are trained to farm. Farming is a science and needs to be treated as such.



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