Exactly what the doctor ordered for the breeder
With most of India’s livestock in rural and remote areas, the use of mobile veterinary units will be a game changer.
The twentieth livestock census indicated that India today has a livestock population of about 537 million; of this number, 95.8% are concentrated in rural areas. Since most of the country’s livestock are found in rural and remote areas, access to veterinary services is a major challenge. Herders are often forced to travel far from their villages whenever their animals need care, a scenario that negatively impacts the longevity and productivity of their livestock.
To alleviate this problem, the government has identified a series of measures in the revised provisions of the Livestock Health and Disease Control (LH&DC) programme; here, the focus has been on “creating and strengthening veterinary services – mobile veterinary units (MVU)”. So far, the government has provided home-based services related to artificial insemination and vaccination of livestock. MVUs will rely on the home delivery model, as stationary hospitals are not easily accessible to most breeders.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairy has observed that insufficient facilities for testing and treating veterinary diseases pose a major challenge, especially now that there are a drastic increase in cases of zoonotic diseases. Most villages in the country lack testing facilities, and even when samples are collected, they have to be sent to nearby blocks/districts for test results. Thus, MVUs can play a major role in bridging the gap in this regard.
Quacks or untrained animal health workers are popular in rural parts of India as they charge less for consultations and are easily accessible. This has led to the inappropriate administration of antibiotics due to incorrect prescriptions especially in cases of mastitis (inflammation of the udder in cattle). Thus, problems with antimicrobial resistance arise when the animal no longer responds to a drug to which it was originally responding. And antimicrobial resistance can be caused by factors such as high or low doses, incorrect treatment duration, and over-prescribing. The World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled the list of antibiotic-resistant ‘priority pathogens’, a catalog of 12 species/families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health. The MVU model will mitigate the problem of antimicrobial resistance and aligns with the “One Health vision” set out by the WHO Global Action Plan.
The MK Jain committee report pointed out that herders face greater challenges compared to traditional agricultural farmers, especially when accessing credit and livestock insurance. Since a majority of pastoralists have two to four animals per household, improving the longevity and productivity of their livestock will go a long way to reducing rural poverty. Currently, there are about 66,000 veterinary hospitals, polyclinics, dispensaries, health centers across the country. And the LH&DC program aims to address the challenges posed by the limitations of stationary hospitals by providing veterinary diagnostic and treatment facilities at a farmer’s doorstep for ailments, diseases or any other emergency veterinary conditions by MVUs. .
Today, a typical MVU is a four-wheeled van, with workspace for a veterinarian, para-vet, and driver-attendant. It also has space for essentials such as diagnostic, treatment and minor surgery equipment, other basic animal treatment requirements, audio-visual aids for outreach and vehicle GPS tracking. . The LH&DC program envisages an MVU for one lakh animals; however, the number of vans in circulation may be higher in areas with difficult terrain.
Loss of milk
As around 70% of India’s milk supply comes from farmers who own less than five animals, mastitis losses alone represent a milk loss of around 10 liters per day per farm ( this translates to around ₹300-350 per day.So for most farmers, death or disease of livestock could be the difference between sustenance and starvation.The animal health problem is compounded by the growing presence of drug dispenser vendors in rural communities.
MVUs have been successfully operated on either lease or state ownership basis in several states (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, West Bengal, etc.) with results positives and increased reach, especially in geographically challenging terrain. The main direction in the near future will be the targeted upgrading of veterinary health care services, disease surveillance and training (CVE) and real-time disease notification.
As a job creator
Additionally, the growing adoption of MVUs across the country will lead to increased employment opportunities for veterinarians and assistants. During the lockdown during the novel coronavirus pandemic, we have witnessed innovations from start-ups that have provided video consultation sessions between farmers and veterinarians, as well as applications that provide detailed information to farmers on health and livestock nutrition.
Thus, there is great scope for innovation and private sector intervention in animal health and VVMs. Additionally, with the increasing prevalence of the public-private partnership (PPP) model, the MVU model is poised to generate higher returns on investment.
Atul Chaturvedi is a secretary in the Ministry of Livestock and Dairy Industry. Opinions expressed are personal