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South Africa has a ratio of 60 to 70 veterinarians per million people whereas the global norm is said to be 200 to 400 vets per million.

This critical shortage of animal health professionals, especially in rural areas, has a profound negative impact on emerging black farmers and on transformation in agriculture as a whole.

As an animal health company that supports South African farmers, Afrivet consistently engages with black farmers to bring critical services to areas where animal health awareness is poor. “We support transformation by placing animal technicians in rural towns,” says Afrivet learnership manager Siyanda Mabaso.

“We offer black farmers training and upskilling, link them to the cooperatives where they buy their supplies and to the formal markets where they sell their products.” 

A well-supplied network of vets anchors systems of disease surveillance, animal health and agricultural production. The repeated and increasing disease outbreaks of the past two decades provide some insight into what can happen to the sector when there just aren’t enough vets around to man these systems. 

   ‘More awareness’ is the key to helping rural farmers access veterinary care

“There is a big shortage of vets, and more especially of black vets who will help overcome language barriers in deep rural areas,” confirms Mabaso. The University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort produces roughly 160 vets every year but only about 25% are black.

Mabaso says young people do not get the necessary exposure to veterinary careers and information about the opportunities and earning potential in this field. “I’m sure there would be more aspiring vets if there was more exposure,” he says. 

Dr Alfred Tlotlo Kgase of the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) adds that vets are stretched beyond capacity. He says the SAVC, government and relevant institutions should be supporting and funding the entry of more young, black vets. The sector also needs more state funding for permanent animal health clinics and veterinary faculties. 

“We must take steps to ensure that young professionals in the animal health field are the agents of change in their own communities,” Mabaso concludes.

Veterinarians are the doctors of the animal world. They use their skills to evaluate patients, make diagnoses, and treat a wide range of conditions.

“Our goal is to preserve quality of life and alleviate pain while making sure that we work with our pet owners as best we can to help them care for their pets,” says Dr. Justine Lee, board-certified veterinary specialist in emergency/critical care and toxicology. She also notes these medical professionals can treat different species, depending on their specific focus.

Veterinarians improve animals’ lives, and that may even translate to better health outcomes for humans.