Dr Miftahul Islam Barbaruah
Director, Vet Helpline India Pvt Ltd.
I had a recent opportunity to prepare a report on global veterinary workforce. Some very interesting statistics attracted my attention. During 2015, USA reported to World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) a total of 87009 veterinarians out of which 75593 (86.9%) are private veterinarians. In contrast, during the same year India reported 70767 veterinarians out of which only 3116 (4.4%) are private veterinarians. In the above comparison, I have not considered private veterinarians in US pharmaceutical industry as India is yet to report veterinarians in private pharmaceutical industry. While presenting above comparative statistics, I have considered veterinarians in academics and training institutions which is 6800 and 2181 for USA and India respectively as public veterinarians.
As per Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) Survey of Veterinary Profession in Europe-2015, there are 243 000 veterinarians in Europe. A clear majority (60%), of these veterinarians work in mostly private clinical practice which is predominantly of companion animal.
Why do majority of veterinarians in developed countries operate as private veterinarians? Is it due to the fact the animal owners in these countries can pay for services? The economic and institutional framework of the livestock industry is quite different in several respects in developed and developing countries but things are fast changing in developing countries like India. A clear majority of Indian are now looking for quality services and they are ready to pay for such services.
In India, though veterinary service is predominantly public and free, the availability and access in majority of rural areas is poor. In many areas farmers in actual sense are paying for what is termed as free or subsidized service. Moreover, public veterinary services to farm animals due to many reasons are largely inadequate and discontinuous with limited focus on prevention of diseases at the level of individual farms or households. The situation is similar is all our 6 neighboring South Asian countries. This is primarily due to inadequate number of veterinary doctors and para-vets.
To tackle the shortage of veterinarians in service delivery, there are two natural solutions and they are: Increased recruitment of veterinarian in public service and incentive / encouragement for private veterinary service delivery. However, one should simultaneously increase the capacity intake of existing veterinary colleges or setting up of new public or private colleges to meet the demand of veterinarians. Public finance constraints limits scope for first solution for government and therefore we are witnessing better credit facilities with subsidies for private veterinarians to set up clinics (Please refer Agri-clinic scheme of Government of India).
If we consider opinion of economist, except preventive care, curative veterinary service is private good and there is limited justification for scarce public resources for same.
As per International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, Rev.3.1, Veterinary activities are classified under class 8520 as economic activities.
In many developing countries in recent years, the improvement in the economy have given more disposable income to people to spend on quality private veterinary services. Research has already indicated that majority of animal owners in developing countries (including rural farmers) have the willingness to pay for the veterinary services and it is possible to increase the capacity of farmers to pay for such services through service level innovations such as formation of common interest group of farmers who in turn are linked to private veterinarians on annual retention contract basis. Veterinarian under such contract can further reduce the cost of services to farmers by following the principles of herd health management. A private veterinarian under innovative service arrangements can also supervise and hire trained para-vets and village level animal health workers to efficiently manage large client base. To streamline para-vet training, skill development and to bring their services under appropriate monitoring framework, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) have recently adopted the National Occupational Standard (NOS) for para-vets and animal health workers in India. Private veterinarians can now legally hire para-vets to ensure continuous and follow up service to large number of clients. The following public policy in future can further enhance scope of private veterinary services in India:
- Sub-contracting of select services to private sector.
- Support to membership based organizations for service infrastructure development and delivery.
- Direct subsidies to poor livestock farmers (e.g. vouchers etc.) to avail services from accredited private veterinarians.
- Support to monitoring framework for private para-vets and animal health workers under supervision of registered veterinarians.
In recent years, large number of cases of emerging diseases and food safety issues are forcing government to enhance resource allocation to strengthen preventive and regulatory capacity of public agencies. The public resources are getting scarce for curative individual client oriented services in this context. Many policy initiators in India are in opinion that public veterinary service should only focus on country or state level preventive health management and regulatory functions related to public health and food safety. Public funded curative services should be targeted at poor and under-developed areas only. People in developed areas engaged in profitable farming can pay for curative veterinary services from private concerns. There is ample economic justification for withdrawal or pricing of public curative services in developed areas. This will enhance the scope or give a competitive edge to private veterinary service providers who are currently competing with free public veterinary services.
It is true that in India we are going through a development phase and soon we too will have more people in private services than on public services like that of developed nations as USA and countries in Europe. The paradigm shift in policy is evident as many states in India have already started pricing curative public veterinary services. Few states are also evaluating the option of direct transfer of veterinary care cost to poor or BPL farmers. Though the benefit of policy shift can be debated, this appears non-reversible and for now, is creating vast opportunity for private veterinarians to fill the gap in service delivery at least to developed clusters.
Another area that has created much scope for private veterinarians with management, laboratory services and public health specialization, is the increasing trend of government outsourcing of public services.
Services of veterinarians are in demand from large number of private companies, agencies and cooperatives who are active across the livestock value chain, starting from cultivation of feed and fodder to consumption of processed and further processed animal based food items. Demand also exists from companies who support livestock value chains from outside such as private research establishments (Both action and pure research such as policy research, project monitoring, product development, clinical trials etc.), knowledge product providers and manufacturers (e.g. Print and web publications, training and capacity building services, mobile applications etc.), pharmaceuticals, feed and equipment manufacturers, breeding service providers, insurance agencies, banks, etc.
The demand for veterinarians from Non-government agencies are also increasing in recent years as veterinarians are found to be good animal welfare and development workers and their technical knowledge is an added advantage for NGOs to implement animal welfare and livestock related development intervention.
On the demand side, the technology driven organized and developed production clusters of small to medium farms and integrated operation of companies (including contract farming) in recent years, have resulted into vast demand for high end skilled farm animal veterinary consultants. Data aided herd health management, use of Internet of Thing (IoT) based tools etc. is slowly taking centerstage in veterinary farm and companion animal consultancy in India. Large number of farm animals and farm premises are now being identified using Information Technology based tools for real time data recording, cloud base software aided analysis of health / production data and delivery of targeted and planned basket of private veterinary services.
Private turnkey consultancy service providers for setting up of organized livestock farms are fast emerging in India. Many of these private companies are also engaging veterinarians to develop production clusters for integrators.
Reference to companion animal sector, the pet population in India has grown from 7 million in 2006 to 10 million in 2011. On an average 600,000 pets are adopted every year. With dog ownership in India rising, ‘Euro monitor International’ has projected India to be the fastest growing global pet market, and the rising pet ownership rates are driving demand for pet food, health products, and pet accessories besides veterinary services. The Indian pet market is now $800-million-plus industry, and is expected to register strong double-digit retail value growth in the coming years. As per a recently published report by TechSci Research, “India Pet Food Market Forecast and Opportunities, 2019”, the pet food market in India is projected to cross USD270 million by 2019.
In response to favorable market, there are emergence of chain of advanced private veterinary clinics in India. Large corporate houses like Dr Batra’s and Dr Lal Path labs are few examples of this trend. Many clinics including mobile service facility for large animals are planning for scaling up of operations through franchisee network. A very encouraging development is entrepreneurial investments on independent advanced laboratories both for companion and farm animals.
The discussion in this article indicates vast scope for private veterinarians in India. However, to tap this opportunity private veterinarians must improve their skill in chosen areas. They must ensure 5 A’s of service delivery viz. Acceptability, Availability, Access, Adequacy and Affordability. Exploring the vast online resource under Continuing Veterinary Medical education (CVME) framework is the need of the hour for students and field veterinarians willing to enter the world of private services.
Veterinary Council of India is also all set to establish the standards of veterinary practice in coming years making CVME credit score mandatory for renewal of registration of veterinarians. As the scope and demand for veterinarians in private sector grows in India, much is expected from veterinary colleges and training institutes as provider of infrastructure for appropriate skill trainings of students and mid-career practicing veterinarians. The Government of India has recently (2016) decided to remove “controlled condition” for 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in animal husbandry sector. The opportunity in private sphere if not tapped by Indian veterinarians now – the days are not too far when we will witness enterprises in India owned and managed by foreign veterinarians.
(An abridged version of the article was published in Souvenir of Veterinary College, Alumni Meet-2017, Veterinary College Alumni Association, Assam)
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