Vet practitioners must embrace continuous education – Registrar

Ezenwa Nwakonobi

The Registrar of Veterinary Council of Nigeria, Dr. Ezenwa Nwakonobi has expressed the need for veterinarians to always partake in continuing education programmes organized by the council. He spoke to newsmen in Abuja about the programme and other activities of the council. Excerpts;

May we meet you officially sir?

My name is Ezenwa Nwakonobi. I am the registrar of the veterinary council of Nigeria.

Question: What is the mandate of the organization?

Answer: The council is a government agency under the supervision of the federal ministry of agriculture which itself has a number of agencies it supervises on behalf of the government.

For us here our major tasks are three that are interrelated. There are other ones that are drawn from those three.

The first is the regulation of the profession; veterinary practice in Nigeria. Regulation of practitioners (veterinary surgeons in Nigeria) and the regulation of training of persons that will eventually become veterinary surgeons in Nigeria.

As I said earlier there are other ancillary mandates.

We also regulate practice of what we call veterinary paraprofessionals – support staff for veterinarian’s; we have technologists who are more or less like nurses in human medical practice.

We have veterinary technicians, we have veterinary laboratorians. All these are also regulated by the council. So, the council is the regulatory body for the practice and practitioners themselves.

Questions: You mentioned practice and the practitioners, how have been able to do these all this while.

Answer: The operations of the council done in achieving these regulatory functions are in a number of ways. We have veterinary practice licensing, we have veterinary professional licensing. We have veterinary paraprofessional incensing, we collaborate with universities and NUC in development of curriculum for the training of veterinary students and animal health technology students.

 For the veterinary practices, when we say veterinary practices we mean, veterinary clinics; veterinary hospitals including veterinary primary animal health centers. We have these.

Every year we look at the practices. There international standards that are set which we are signatory to. Standards that are set by the world animal health organization with headquarter in Paris. We draw from these standards and develop in house adopted standards for Nigeria.

We ensure that on a yearly basis, practices meet those standards in terms of structures, in terms of equipment, in terms of staffing etc.

Now the practitioners, myself I am a practitioner, I need to show every year that I am up to the requirements to practice. There is a mechanism we have in the council to check every veterinary surgeon’s capability and capacity to practice. That I was capable two years ago may not necessarily mean that I am today. so, there is a mechanism that will prove that somebody is still good to practice in Nigeria. And every year, when you pass that test you are issued a license for that year.

Question: Give a brief description of things that may qualify one to practice veterinary medicine in Nigeria.

Answer: The major process we use for that is what we call a continuing education programme. Our profession is such that things change very fast, almost on a daily basis.

So, you must be seen to be in tune with what is happening. And so, there is an arrangement that the council has made that every year there is a continuing education programme. And every person is supposed to attend that programme, at least once in two years. if you cannot do it every year you must have a certification to have done it once in two years.

If there is a lag in that; If for two years a vet practicing, either in government or private does not have a certification to have attended at least one continuing education programme that person’s status as a practitioner will likely be suspended.

Question: The assumption is that when you attend those lectures or continuing education that will qualify you in the field. Now somebody that attended those continuing education programmes and one who did not attend, what is the difference?

Answer: The continuing education programme is a very practical based programme. We just had one even under covid-19 – we just head one in December last year, and we got seasoned professionals both veterinarians and non-veterinarians in key areas. These days you have to know something about accounting and bookkeeping. We had to get somebody that is into marketing and accounting to take all of us on that. I here as the registrar, should have an idea of how to manage resources. That is not purely veterinary.

So, we got people from both within Nigeria and outside the country to take us. We take contemporary issues and there is covid now. What is the place of veterinarians in the situation that we are in now? How do we key in? How do we become relevant to participate in solving the problem that we have globally now? A vet that is not knowledgeable in something that is contemporary cannot be said to be good enough to practice.

So that is how it is. That is why it is called a continuous education programme. It is not just to come and give the lectures and all that. Lectures on things that are relevant. If not for covid, when we do our lectures, there are even some (the practical aspect of it) to keep everybody abreast of what is happening.

The way we were taught surgery, for instance (I left school in 1987), the way I was taught on how to do surgery has changed.

We used to do pregnancy diagnosis by what is called rectal palpation; you put your hands into the rectum of the animal and check. Now if I have to do pregnancy diagnosis, I don’t have to do that. All I have to do is say I have an ultrasound. Just put the machine and it shows me whether there is pregnancy or not.

So, if one does not pass through continuous education, it is very likely that the person will be lacking in the knowledge and practice of the profession. By the way, I know that it is about life. If you make the mistake of giving the wrong medication to a dog you might be in trouble because the person is permitted to take on; take you to court. So, we need to be on top of the game.

Question: It seems there are quackery in the industry. From what you explained you mentioned levels of personnel in the profession, the ancillary. There are some people who call themselves veterinary consultants but do not study discipline. How do you regulate their activities?

Answer: Thank you very much. This is an area that has been very daunting for us; even before I graduated from the veterinary school it has been on for years. It is something that some of us refer to as Achilles tendon. By the way it is not restricted to veterinary. If you go legal practice, it is there. If you go to human medicine it is there, if you go to pharmacy, it is there. Virtually every engineering; building, it is there. For us, because of the peculiarity of the profession, especially in this part; it seems to be more pronounced. You see the issue of quackery anybody can be a vet. Anybody can be anything. So, we have been trying to regulate and control that by engaging relevant authorities.

The measure issue of quackery is that it is found in urban settings but it is more serious in rural settings where there is a lack of qualified veterinarians practicing there. So, one of the ways we have been trying to handle that is to get qualified veterinarians to also do what is called rural veterinary practice. All of us cannot be in Abuja. All of us cannot be in the metropolis. We need to also go to the hinterland. And again, luckily for us this time the president of the council is an assistant inspector general of police. And she has been very, very helpful to us. Not only through sensitization, but also enforcement of the law because there are laws to curtail such.

So, we have been doing all that. I can say that it has not been easy. We have had situations where people go to do things below standard and they say they are veterinarians and the whole world would say vets are doing the wrong things, only for us to investigate and find out that he never even went to veterinary school. Even just step into veterinary school and out. They never went.

Q: What is your appraisal of veterinary teaching in Nigerian universities?

A: For me universities are doing the best they can. By the way, today we have about eleven veterinary faculties across the country. In my time when I was in the university, in 1987, we had only five; University of Nigeria, Nsukka where I graduated from; University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Maiduguri, Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto. Now we have, additional six.

There are areas of increase of development or better competence in or training and there are areas of lowered competence in training. The facilities that are available to students now in schools, we never had that privilege in our own time.

Having said that, you will see a mix of the two. Some of the graduates are short on the Job. But then it is not peculiar to only veterinarians. Look at the education sector in the country; generally, it is the same thing. So, it is the same environment, if there are decadence in educational infrastructure, educational training, generally speaking it will also affect all the component elements including veterinary.

So, to that extent, I will say a lot more needs to be done.

Q: What are the challenges?

A: Challenges of the council or the challenges of the association, which one?

Q: The challenges of the council.

A: The challenges could be drawn from what we have discussed already including the issue of quackery. Because our intent is to have a professional veterinary practice that can stand the test of time and to compare favorably with other practices throughout the world. We have been struggling to do that and part of the problem is the issue of quackery. There is also the issue of capacity building in human resources and financial resources. When you don’t have enough hands to do a job; a job that is meant to be done by ten persons, you only have two or three persons, it becomes a problem.

And then funding, you need X level of funding to be able to deliver your mandate but you get X minus something level of funding, it will just affect it. But with the present council under the leadership of AIG, Aishatu Abubakar – Baju.

We see things happening and situations getting better. What has happened between march last year, even with covid and now it has shown improvement.

Question: Since you took over as the registrar of the council, can we hear one or two things you have added?

A: I said it before, that when I was in school the facilities we had access to in training are not technologically the same with what is available in the universities now. For us, in regulating practice and practitioners one of the major things we need is information, database and long hand data capturing is not only cumbersome, it is inefficient.

So, one of the things that we set out to do as council, is to digitalize the licensing of practices and practitioners. We are just setting the stage for this. We have not concluded that but we are on it and we hope to digitalize every process that we have here in the council within the year. Also, there is the specialist veterinary hospital that has on been on the drawing board for years now. When we came in we felt that it is something that we need to do; at least have one for Nigeria and we are hoping that God helping us with adequate funding we will start that process of establishing that veterinary specialist hospital. It is on airport road, we have acquired the land. We have gotten the drawings. It is just for us to take off. For now, this is what I can say that we have done in the last three months or so.

Thanks for your time.

You are welcome.

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