Saif Al Shara delivering-1648625491775
Saif Al Shara said efforts are underway to increase the number of veterinary professionals and facilities alike. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s people have always had a close relationship with the animals of the land; now, a number of Emiratis are set to transform animal care, animal production and food security as they graduate in increasing numbers from UAE’s first university-based veterinary programme.

In fact, the majority of graduates from the UAE University’s Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine programme have so far been Emirati women, Dr Bhanu Chowdhary, dean of the university’s College of Food and Agriculture, told Gulf News.

“Historically, the Emirati people have cherished and nurtured their bond with various animal species, especially horses, falcons, camels, sheep and goat. This inherent knowledge about wildlife has not, however, been converted into commercial, medical and entrepreneurial know-how thus far. But as I see the passion of our students, I am convinced that we will soon see very qualified animal surgeons emerging from the UAE, and they just as well may be Emirati women,” Dr Chowdhary.

‘One Health’ approach

He was speaking on the sidelines of the 37th World Veterinary Association Congress, a three-day meet in the capital that is seeing the attendance of veterinary experts and officials from around the world. A major focus of the conference is the intricate and unbreakable link between animal, human and environmental health, referred to as the ‘One Health’ approach.

The UAE University’s veterinary programme is the only university-based degree for aspiring veterinarians. Since it launched in 2014, it has seen 56 graduates, with 28 students enrolled in the current batch. The programme is also now open to expat students.

Need for vets

“The UAE has made major strides over the last decade in the field of animal welfare, research and production, and this is all very essential, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us. A healthy animal population not only protects public health but also contributes to food security. With its current focus on ensuring food security, there is a need to further ramp up animal production in the UAE. The country still needs many more veterinarians to enable this, and we are hoping to fill this gap,” Dr Chowdhary said.

Zoonotic diseases

In addition to contributing to the UAE’s food production, qualified veterinarians will be able to study the connections between animal and human diseases in the region.

“The pandemic created widespread awareness that animal diseases can affect humans, and vice versa. But there is still very little knowledge on these zoonotic diseases, especially of ones that could arise in the region. Experts are finally beginning to discuss One Health. But we need to approach this study in an organised fashion,” Dr Chowdhary said.

“My hope is that the growing number of veterinary graduates will be able to contribute to the development of a Middle East and North African centre for zoonotic diseases, as well as a veterinary medicine teaching hospital in the UAE,” he added.

Safeguarding public health

There are currently 1,200 licensed veterinarians across the UAE. Saif Al Shara, assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said efforts are underway to increase the number of veterinary professionals and facilities alike.

“Livestock is part of the UAE’s cultural heritage, and a key component of the economy, healthcare, and food security. The growth in livestock across the nation, and the increase of overall cross-border livestock trade, has been accompanied by a similar surge of interest in veterinary medicine. This knowledge the main element in safeguarding and maintaining animal wealth, and in stemming and controlling the spread of infectious animal diseases and epidemics, including diseases that can infect both humans and animals, an issue that rose to prominence due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Al Shara added.

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“We realise that the upcoming phase demands a deeper understanding of this profession, and a broader recognition of the crucial role its workers play. This should match the widespread of the One Health approach, especially with the climate change, food security and zoonotic challenges currently facing the livestock sector nationally and globally,” he said.

The Congress continues in the capital until Thursday, with more than 80 experts discussing trends and challenges facing the industry.