10 May 2023
New regulations allowing South Africa’s para-veterinary professionals far greater operational independence, have been widely welcomed as a game-changer for the country’s livestock owners. This is especially true for those at smaller-scales and who often cannot afford a veterinarian’s services.
South Africa’s various livestock and other animal production sectors, and the country’s veterinary council (SAVC), have broadly welcomed new operational rules for para-veterinary professionals. These professionals, such as animal health technicians and veterinary nurses, who have valuable skills in managing animal health problems but are not qualified veterinarians, have been given the regulatory green light to open and own their own practices and, where permissible, to operate wholly independently of a veterinarian’s oversight.
A recent survey by the SAVC and that was funded by the Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority, revealed that a significant number of South Africa’s emerging and small-scale livestock owners do not at all make use of or have access to veterinary services, including those provided by the state. This is despite them owning a third of the country’s cattle and sheep.
The SAVC’s president, Dr Nandipha Ndudane, says in a statement, “We are confident this move will broaden access to primary healthcare services for animal owners and small-scale farmers in rural and underserved areas and will create much-needed new income streams for these [para-veterinary] professionals. Animal health technicians will be better equipped to provide training and education to emerging farmers about livestock diseases and how to prevent them. They will also be ideally placed to advise them when to seek veterinary care for sick or injured animals.”
According to the SAVC’s statement, the new regulations permit appropriately qualified, registered and authorised para-veterinary professionals to offer a range of services. These include, but are by no means limited to, basic animal care such as clipping beaks and nails, undertaking catheterization without sedation, administering medicines and vaccinations that have been prescribed by a veterinarian, lancing abscesses and caring for wounds, and providing post-operative care and physical rehabilitation.
Dr Nandipha points out that the relatively new animal health discipline of veterinary physiotherapy has also now been officially categorized as a para-veterinary profession.
Sister Erika Bornman, who represents the veterinary nursing profession on the SAVC, welcomes the fact that veterinary nurses and other para-veterinary professionals can own and operate their businesses for own gain and independently of veterinary supervision “under certain circumstances”.
Thabiso Mohlabi, who represents the animal health technician profession on the SAVC, says, “I can only define the new rules as a bold step to protect rural livelihoods and unlock the economic potential of rural areas. The rules assure the rural dweller of enhanced access to quality para-veterinary services and seek to eradicate patterns of underdevelopment in rural areas.”
The new rules allow an animal health technician to establish a physical primary animal health care (PAHC) facility from which to offer on-site or mobile consultation services. The latter must be based out of the physical PAHC facility that must be registered with the SAVC and comply with prescribed minimum standards. An animal health technician may also sell stock remedies.
Izaak Breitenbach, who is general manager of the South African Poultry Association’s (SAPA) Broiler Organisation, says that his association supports the widening of the responsibilities of para-veterinary professionals. Although the country’s big poultry companies are mostly serviced by veterinarians, there is a “vast number” of smaller-scale poultry farmers who are not. Para-veterinary professionals can now make a “massive contribution” to the latter.
“The biggest concern SAPA would have would be that the main reason smaller poultry farmers don’t make use of veterinarians is the [often prohibitive] cost. If independent para-veterinary professionals can deliver a cost-effective service, it will greatly assist the smaller poultry farmer individually, but also the health of the national flock,” Izaak points out.
The National Wool Growers’ Association’s production adviser, Jan Louis Venter, says that his association welcomes the fact that para-veterinary professionals are now permitted to undertake various important tasks without requiring the oversight of a veterinarian. Examples of these are ultrasound scans to determine pregnancy in livestock, fertility testing of semen samples, and taking blood samples and collecting samples of dung, milk and skin all for a variety of tests.
Jan Louis continues, “This will alleviate pressure on veterinarians who can then perform the more invasive and technically difficult procedures. It will also benefit woolled sheep farmers because there is a massive shortage of veterinarians in South Africa and veterinarians are, therefore, not always readily available. Para-veterinary professionals will also be able to help in times of crisis, such as with outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, Rift Valley fever and rabies.”
Dr Peter Evans, who is a qualified veterinarian and also head of consumer assurance with the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO), explains that his organization “fundamentally has no problem” with animal health technicians and other para-veterinary professionals being permitted to practice independently of veterinary supervision. These latter professionals are the animal health world’s equivalent of the nurses, physiotherapists and other non-doctor professionals who have long provided valuable services in the human health sector.
“The concern that SAPPO would have is if any para-veterinary professionals consult, operate and treat animals outside of the guidelines and rules that they need to abide by,” he says.
Gerhard Schutte who chairs the National Animal Health Forum (NAHF) and is also chief executive officer of the national Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO), believes that under the new rules, para-veterinary professionals can play a significantly positive role in South Africa’s red meat sector. This is especially given that there are widely known capacity problems across the state’s national and provincial animal health management resources.
“We saw that with foot-and-mouth disease. We see it every day with the certification of red meat exports and other aspects that are important to our industry. In these circumstances, especially if they are under the oversight of state veterinarians, para-veterinary professionals can now play a big role,” Gerhard explains.
He adds that the RPO is “very worried” at the declining number of members and the increasing average age of the existing members of the Ruminant Veterinary Association of South Africa (RuVASA). There are not many young veterinarians entering the large animal health profession.
“It is here that para-veterinary professionals can also play a very big role,” Gerhard says. “The RPO is part of the NAHF and we have a committee that is looking into the opportunities that are presented by the new regulations for these professionals. We want to pave out exactly how para-veterinary professionals can become involved in the various animal health sectors.”
Here are links to the new rules for para-veterinary professionals:
- New rules for AHTs
- New rules for laboratory animal technologists
- New rules for veterinary technologists
- New rules for veterinary nurses
- Newly promulgated rules for veterinary physiotherapists
For more information on the new rules for para-veterinary professionals, visit www.savc.org.za
To watch recordings of webinars about the new rules for para-veterinary professionals, visit www.savclive.co.za