Malaysia sees urgent need for more vets

Dr Saravanakumar said the shortage of veterinarians was the biggest challenge faced by the profession in the country.


Special care: Vets look after more than just cats and dogs, they also care for farm animals and oversee that the meats we consume are safe. — ART CHEN/The Star

April 28, 2023

KLANG – From looking after our pets to farm animals and overseeing food production, veterinarians are an essential but underappreciated profession.

And there is an acute shortage in the country.

Dr Saravanakumar S. Pillai, a former Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) deputy director, said their job scope was much wider than just treating all kinds of animals.

“Veterinarians must also look after livestock, poultry and fisheries to ensure the meat and seafood consumed by the public is safe and food security needs are taken care of,’’ he said in conjunction with World Veterinary Day which falls tomorrow.

Dr Saravanakumar, who is currently the Humane Society International (HSI) senior adviser for Farm Animal Welfare, Policy & Engagement, said veterinarians had also diversified into animal-based pharmaceutical and animal feed industries.

“They also play an important role in government slaughterhouses to ensure the meat consumed by members of the public come from healthy animals,’’ he added.

Dr Saravanakumar said the shortage of veterinarians was the biggest challenge faced by the profession in the country.

“There are only two universities in the country that offer veterinary medicine and the undergraduates are employed even before they pass out,’’ he said.

Currently, only Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK) have veterinary medicine faculties.

Former DVS director-general Datuk Dr Norlizan Mohd Noor said the collaboration between DVS, UPM and the Malaysian Veterinary Medical Association to produce more veterinary specialists had not yielded the desired results.

“We need to train more veterinary specialists but the collaboration is not moving fast enough.

“The relevant agencies must expedite training more veterinary specialists and the progress must be in tandem with the medical profession,’’ said Dr Norlizan.

From his experience and observation during the 32 years with DVS, he said, there was also a dire need to train veterinarians in animal production and nutrition.

Dr Norlizan said besides having competency in just veterinary medicine, veterinarians must also be trained in these two disciplines to be in line with the government’s stand on food security.

The DVS comes under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry.

“The government policy now emphasises food security and hence veterinarians must be trained to be competent in areas that are linked to animal production,’’ he added.

A senior veterinarian said there was a need for the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) to better understand the need for certain drugs in veterinary practice.

“Take for instance the strict regulation of ketamine which is used a lot for big animals during surgery.

“The NPRA has imposed a strict control and this makes things difficult for clinical veterinary practitioners,’’ he said.

He also pointed out certain cheaper new drugs, as well as generic drugs, were not allowed which forced pet owners to pay for the expensive version of the medicine.

“For some conditions, an animal needs to take one or two tablets daily for the rest of its life.

“Imagine having to fork out about RM20 for each tablet,’’ he said, adding Malaysia does not produce any veterinary medicine at present.

“Some medicines are also not available here because the authorities insist overseas manufacturer have instructions and certain labelling content in Bahasa Malaysia.

“The manufacturer more often than not declines to do this as Malaysia is a small market. Hence, that particular veterinary drug becomes inaccessible in the country,” he added.

“What we need is someone from the industry or a pharmacologist from UPM’s Veterinary Faculty to sit in the NPRA instead of policy makers and administrators who do not understand how these drugs work and why they are needed in veterinary practices,’’ he said.

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