Daktari, ng’ombe wangu ananiangalia vibaya” (doctor, my cow is giving me a side eye). That was the message Pascal Juma received from a woman who wanted him to come to attend to her cow.
Dr Juma is one of the veterinary surgeons in Kenya whose role is gaining currency in the wake of the rise of killer diseases that emanate from animals such as Ebola and Rift Valley fever that killed more than 300 people in Kenya in 2006.
The veterinary fraternity has also been blamed for playing a big role in the increasing anti-microbial resistance, where drugs are losing their power to cure due to abuse in people and animals.
Given that the demand for animal-based food is on the rise as population increases, claims are rife that the use of chemicals in animals and crops could be contributing to high incidence of cancer.
According to Dr Indraph Ragwa, the registrar at Kenya Veterinary Board (KVB) there are 2,800 graduates usually called veterinary surgeons.
There are another 7,000 para professionals who are graduates in animal health as well as certificate and diploma holders in veterinary surgery or animal health.
During the World Veterinary Day two weeks ago, Kajiado hosted the global event where speeches highlighted the danger that Kenya exposed itself to when the government stopped employing veterinarians in the 1990s.
Livestock PS Andrew Tuimur said the problem of antimicrobial resistance thrived because of the relationship — or a lack thereof— between the farmer and the veterinarian.
Kajiado deputy governor Paul Ntiati said the Maasai, Kenya’s largest pastoralist community, are used to injecting their cows with antibiotics when the animals get sick.
That is hardly anything new in the Maasai or any other small scale farmer and it is where the resistance begins.
In an unrelated interview, Prof Sam Kariuki — a microbiologist who has researched on antimicrobial resistance since the 90s — said human beings are exposed to subtle doses of antibiotics.
This exposure happens when people consume meat and milk from animals that have been exposed to antibiotics.
Antibiotics are increasingly used in farming systems in Kenya as famers give them to animals and chicken to prevent them from getting sick.
The law requires that the drugs are only given to the farmer after prescription from a registered veterinary surgeon but they end up in famers hands from shops that sell them to farmers illegally.
Dr Tuimur blamed this on the veterinarians.
“The fate of microbial resistance is as much in your hands as animal owners, as it is in the hands of the professionals who serve you, and the people who supply antibiotics to you illegally,” said the Livestock PS in his speech.
Prof Kariuki said veterinarians also fall prey to the pressure from farmers who demand that they are given antibiotics.
He said: “The farmer tells the vet that the last time the animals showed those signs they were given a certain drug and they got well and so they demand for that particular drug.”
Dr Indraph Ragwa, from KVB said prescriptions for anti-biotics are usually accompanied with directions on how to use them.
“Using antibiotics on animals comes with instructions such as not to take milk or meat from that animal for a certain period of time, and only a qualified person would know that,” he said.
However, Dr Ragwa said, science has not directly linked cancer to the consumption of meat and milk from animals that have been exposed to antibiotics.
Dr Ragwa added that farmers lose their animals in the hands of quacks, especially when performing complex procedures such as Caesarian section on cows.
“They want money, and when the animal dies, the famer loses a livelihood as well as the money,” he said.
Livestock play a huge role in food security and thus more exposure to people.
Veterinary Services director Kisa Juma Ngeiywa told the Business Daily that the issue of chemical residue was a concern for trade in animal products since they do not meet the stringent health standards for exportation when tested.
He raised a concern about pastoralists, who account for 70 per cent of livestock production in Kenya, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation, stating that: “Livestock owners, especially the pastoralists, should seek for professional services to avoid antimicrobial resistance developing and chemical residues which are harmful to man and curtail trade and market access for livestock and livestock product.”
According to the 2016 Economic Survey the volume of marketed milk increased by 10.9 per cent from 541.3 million litres in 2014 to 600.4 million litres in 2015.
Cattle sold to abattoirs rose by nearly 10 per cent in 2015 to stand at 2.3 million while sheep and goats slaughtered in 2015 increased from 6.2 million in 2014 to 6.6 million in 2015.
Realising the need for the vets and ensure quality assurance, the government rolled out the Internship programme for fresh veterinary graduates, which started this year.
So far, Dr Ngeiywa says, 530 interns have been posted to 44 counties, as negotiations go on with three counties to embrace the internship programme.
Be that as it may, Kenya is among the first countries in Africa to employ the One-Health approach, an emerging field in science where human health is viewed from the environment and animal interconnectedness.
Kenya established the Zoonotic Disease Unit in 2006 to co-ordinate the One-Health activities.