Return to Table of Contents: WVA Bulletin Vol 14 No 2 June 1997

Contribution of the Veterinary Services to Economic Development and Protection of Human Health

Historical Aspects - Professor, MVDr V. Kouba, PhD, DrSc, Professor of Epizootiology, Brno University of Veterinary Medicine, Czech Republic.

Lecture presented at the WAHVM (World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine) Congress 1996, Vienna, Austria.

Veterinary services are the main tools for into-practice- transfer of veterinary philosophy and ideas, results of veterinary sciences, proposed methodologies, animal health programmes as well as knowledge gained by education and training. The level of practical impact on the health of animal and human populations is the key criterion for the evaluation of veterinary medicine contribution to social, economic and public health development.

Main functions

Within the society the main functions of veterinary services as its integral component are to contribute to the production of food of animal origin and to the protection of human health against diseases transmissible from animals.

A decisive factor of veterinary services is professional manpower. The territorial distribution is about 600,000 veterinarians in the world, see Table 1. If we add the number of animal health assistants then the »veterinary family« reaches about one million members. Structure of their employment can be seen in Graph 1.

Theoretical »workload« can be expressed by average numbers of domestic animals per one veterinarian. If we take 1990 global data, then we could count the following numbers: 2,187 cattle, 385 dairy cows, 235 buffaloes, 103 horses, 2,055 sheep, 992 goats, 1,447 pigs, 18,204 chickens, etc. per veterinarian. Average number of inhabitants per veterinarian was 8,933 (5,081 in rural areas and 3,852 in urban areas). Average territory per veterinarian was 22,112 ha (2,422 ha of arable land and 5,498 ha of pastures). It is obvious that in each country these averages differ very much according to local conditions and type of veterinary employment and responsibility.

There were and still are developing countries having huge territories with enormous number of domestic animals but only few veterinarians (often being short of necessary facilities, equipment, drugs, transport, funds, etc.).

Veterinary services

The impact of veterinary service activities has been considerable. Prevention and animal disease reduction, elimination and eradication at population (territory) levels have made possible:

·         reduction and/or elimination of risk of zoonoses and incidence in human populations

·         improved indicator values for animal production and reproduction

·         increased production of food of animal origin

·         increased quality of food of animal origin

·         cost/effective livestock husbandry development

·         improved and uninterrupted production of animal population, reproduction processes and other performances

·         increased concentration of animals in space and volume

·         reduced input in breeding and production

·         introduction of modern technology in livestock husbandry and food processing industry intensifying production output

·         significant expansion of national and international trade in animals and their products

·         increased income and economic stability of farms and households, i.e. increased standard of living in rural areas.

The improvement of the health of the animal population as basic precondition for the development of livestock husbandry has contributed to the development of agriculture and thus to general economic and social development in the world.

Professor MVDr Vaclav Kouba, PhD, DrSc., born in Czech Republic in 1929, graduated in 1953 at Brno University of Veterinary Medicine. Formerly: Chief, Animal Health Service, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome; Veterinary Public Health Expert, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva; Informatics Expert, International Office of Epizootics (OIE), Paris; Member of Committee on Education, World Veterinary Association (WVA); Chief-Editor of FAO-OIE-WHO Animal Health Yearbook; National Chief Epizootiologist and Technical Director of Veterinary Services, Prague; Professor of Epizootiology, Brno University of Veterinary Medicine; Visiting Professor of Havana, Mexico City and Kosice Universities.

Veterinary services play a key role in protecting the health of all animal populations of importance. If we consider also the co-responsibility for sanitary innocuous animal products, then we can imagine the enormous value which we have to take care of in the interest of humanity.

The major impact of veterinary services, i.e. the effect of the protection of specific diseases free herds, flocks, populations and territories is difficult to quantify in biological, monetary or public health measure units. This »daily bread« of veterinary services is very often underestimated and not properly appreciated by others. Preventive measures impact protecting specific diseases free countries avoided enormous losses which would had followed disease introduction. This can be documented by examples of millions of dead animals due to deadly diseases such as rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, hog cholera, Newcastle disease, myxomatosis, etc. in affected territories.

Millions of humans have been protected against zoonotic diseases by the activities of veterinary services reducing and eliminating these diseases in animal populations.

The question is how to measure this impact, the benefit of the prevention of the animal population and the reduction of diseases where veterinary services play a decisive role as initiators, professional executors and managers? What is the proportion of merit of veterinary services for this positive impact?

Other problems of the animal health programme impact evaluation is the delay of critical point when cost/benefit is equal (1:1).

The first period of the programmes costs more than benefit the value. Therefore, the evaluation should be based upon cumulative effect after reaching the reduction or eradication of specific disease.

Unfortunately, there are relatively few historical data enabling us to evaluate the animal production in the whole world and thus to try to assess veterinary services, their participation and merits.

Main animal production data

Systematical collection of the main animal production data started in 1961 publishing them in FAO Production Yearbook, see Table 2. Global data on zoonoses in human population are still fragmental. More detailed production and public health data at national and local levels provide better basis for impact evaluation when correlating them with the results of veterinary services programmes. It is relatively easier to evaluate the effect of reduction of specific diseases or eradication programmes limited by time and space.

From thousands of examples of success stories, the majority of which wait for their adequate appreciation, I would like to mention some: The most feared killing disease - rinderpest (e.g. in the 18th century it killed allegedly 200 million heads of cattle) is to-day close to its global elimination.

Excellent results were achieved also against one of the main obstacles in trade and livestock husbandry development and production - foot-and-mouth disease which in 1950 spread over almost the whole territory of Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. Europe and majority of other formerly affected continents has reached FMD-free status. Other examples of very successful programmes contributing to economic development and protection of human health is the eradication of the New World screwworm (Cochlyomyia hominivorax) in North and Central America as well as recently in Northern Africa (3 years after its introduction).

In 1964 a huge wave of foot-and-mouth disease penetrating in Mongolia through the Gobi desert was blocked and liquidated with the help of international expeditions saving country livestock - the most important economic sector.

In the Czech Republic the elimination of bovine tuberculosis in 1968 represented a key boost for doubling meat and milk production achieving animal food production self- sufficiency; eradication of widely spread bovine brucellosis in 1964 avoided new cases in human population.

International organizations

Not only national veterinary services but also international organizations such as FAO, OIE and WHO have decisively contributed to the economic development and protection of human health in the world.

Main sources of major historically important international

data on veterinary services and animal diseases are: FAO-OIE- WHO Animal Health Yearbook, OIE World Animal Health (Yearbook)

and HANDISTATus software package containing data of both yearbooks.

Historical data

Serious problems are with the collection, processing and storing of historical data from the veterinary services, such as: Incomplete coverage of the history of less developed countries; incomplete coverage of the history of field veterinary services staff and institutions; lack of national and international veterinary services archives; etc.

Several preconditions are needed for the significant improvement and availability of historically important records on veterinary services such as:

·         compatible information systems at all levels, i.e from local to global - collecting reliable data (facilitating comparative studies in time and space);

·         standard international definitions of basic terms and measurements;

·         standardization of diagnostic methods (including uniform interpretation of the results);

·         integrated systems of quantitative and qualitative, absolute and relative indicators;

·         avoiding frequent changes of information systems, indicators and codes maintaining relative stability within periods between regular revisions;

·         avoiding incomplete reporting and data missing (to assure full coverage in time and space for enabling trends forecasting);

·         avoiding loosing historically important documents (.e.g. during reorganizations)

·         publishing periodically statistical summaries (in form of yearbooks, multi-annual documents, information software, etc.), complex analyses of major programmes and their results (in form of reports, summary articles, monographs, etc.)

·         using adequate methodology for veterinary services impact evaluation, etc.

·         involvement of veterinary services management (Chief Veterinary Officers, etc.), Deans of Veterinary Faculties, relevant international organizations, professional centres and associations.

The history

History of veterinary medicine representing continuous systematic records of important events and studies, aggregates and reconstructs past events. Among the objects of professional attention the priority should be given to the history of veterinary services. The scope should involve: Veterinary services of all countries, levels and components, their philosophy, concepts, systems, structure and strategies; methods and programmes; field, laboratory and slaughterhouse activities and results; legislation, education (undergraduate, postgraduate), research, organization, management and economics (e.g., input/output - cost/benefit) etc. Social, economic and technological environment should always be considered. In other words, we should try to deal with veterinary services history in full »coverage«, i.e. in time, space and levels amending gradually today's fragmental coverage (dedicated mainly to individual top level professionals and veterinary medicine in developed countries). Every day life of all veterinary services should become a matter of historical interest.

Similarly the history of the health of animal populations and development of specific diseases, history of diagnostic/control methods and measures and their effectiveness call for being included in the targets of historical veterinary medicine science.

The 20th century has been the most important and successful period of veterinary medical science and practice in the whole history. The threshold of the 3th millennium and the 21st century is an ideal chance for starting a new era also in the field of the history of veterinary medicine. Today's generation of veterinarians should try to leave for the future a »clean table« as far as the history of the 20th century and of the second millennium is concerned. The year 2000 waits behind the door and the World Veterinary Association is the right international body to address the whole »veterinary family« of the world.

»Learning from the past can contribute to increase the veterinary services impact on the development of social, economic and public health in the future. This will help to »sell« the results of the veterinary services and thus to increase the prestige and position within the society. Particularly, the records on success stories will give future generations of veterinarians a higher appreciation of the history of veterinary services«. Photo: Hnerik Lund/Lund & Birch av.

Historical studies facilitate identifying the trends and forecasting future development. Learning from the past can contribute to increase the veterinary services impact on the development of social, economic and public health in the future. This will help to »sell« the results of the veterinary services and thus to increase the prestige and position within the society. Particularly, the records on success stories will give future generations of veterinarians a higher appreciation of the history of veterinary services. The history stimulates pride in achievements of previous generations. Many of the history records are and will be of great importance giving a good insight into the character of veterinary services, ideas, work, conditions and results.


I would like to present for consideration several suggestions for gradually strengthening and extending the role of the history of veterinary medicine (according to available inputs respecting importance and priorities):

·         to enlarge the scope covering all the world, all the levels (international, national and local) and all the fields of the sciences of veterinary medicine and practice and thus to fill the gaps in today's veterinary historical science; in other words the history of veterinary services to be the history of all veterinarians and their supporting staff in the world;

·         to establish national and international centres for the history of veterinary medicine with long-term programmes for continuous collection and storage of records of important events (written texts, photos, videos, films, maps, diskettes, CD-ROMs, etc.) and documents (e.g. veterinary laws, regulations, instructions, etc. can be registered free of charge) and easy to find in case of need;

·         to provide feasible methodology for the activities of veterinary services in the field of history (based on generalized experience accumulated in the past);

·         to use modern technology for analyzing, storing and accessing important historical data and documents i.e. computerized systems (diskettes, CD-ROMs, INTERNET, etc.), special software (HANDISTATus, EPI-INFO, EPIZOO, etc.);

·         to provide relevant documents on past, successful and unsuccessful, experience for optimization of the methods of future programmes and as convincing and defendable arguments attracting necessary support for veterinary services and animal health programmes;

·         to increase general consciousness of veterinary history importance today and in the future (using extension, conferences, publications, exhibitions, etc.);

·         to try to involve as many veterinarians and veterinary institutions as possible in collecting historically important records and thus to create a large basis for future reconstruction of the events of the past (today's records = tomorrow's historical records);

·         to combine regular with ad hoc, active with passive, collections of historical records (systematic collection of all relevant records will minimize tedious search in the future)

·         to include the history of veterinary medicine as under- graduate curriculum subject in all veterinary faculties;

·         to exploit existing or develop new legislation on historical documents collection, storage and use;

·         to evaluate veterinary historical records also from the point of view of the contribution to social and economic development and protection of human health.

Historical records are not only simple memoirs for the future generations, but many of them are also very important documents which can help us in solving future problems. Comparative studies of past events and methods can often be useful when deciding on new programmes and measures. History of successful programmes which proved to be effective, in case of need, can serve as good examples for future activities. On the other hand, unsuccessful programmes can serve as experience for earlier mistakes not to be repeated, i.e., learning not only from past good experience and but also from past failures.

Almost all our activities are based on the past as its logical continuation. Documents of veterinary history represent rich sources of extremely valuable past experience. Therefore, it should concern not only professional veterinary historians, but every veterinarian.

Today, we have ideal and unique opportunity which will not be repeated soon to evaluate the scope of veterinary medicine history, methodology, organization and management and to prepare a new phase for the next century and millennium.

A declaration

I am suggesting for consideration to prepare a declaration on veterinary medicine history importance for the present and the future and recommendations for starting 21th century and 3th millennium by:

·         extending the scope of history of the programmes of veterinary medicine covering continuously the territories of all countries, all levels and all components of veterinary science and practice of veterinary services;

·         introducing corresponding methodology, organization and management of the collection of historical records, storing, registration, processing, evaluation, accessibility and use.

This declaration to be addressed to all relevant international and national veterinary organizations, institutions and societies.


Historical records provide information useful for the evaluation of the practical impact of veterinary services on social, economic and public health development and for decision-making on animal health programmes. Therefore, the care of history should be considered as an integral component of veterinary services functions.

Address of the author:

Professor Dr Vaclav Kouba, DrSc
P.B. 516
17000 Prague 7
Czech Republic.

Table 1. Number of veterinarians in the world in 1990 (FAO-OIE-WHO Animal Health Yearbook 1991).


              Number                   %

Africa        32,343                   5.47

Americas     139,916                  23.65

Asia         215,931                  36.49

Europe       136,119                  23.01

Oceania        7,318                   1.24

Former USSR   60,000 (estimate)       10.14

Total        591,627                 100.00

Table 2. Increase of global production of food of animal origin (FAOSTAT, FAO, 1995).


Food           Units      1961    1994    Increase     by %


meat total     1000 MT   71,146  194,657   123,511   173.60

beef + veal    1000 MT   27,660   50,509    22,849    82.61

mutton + lamb  1000 MT    4,931    6,886     1,955    39.65

pig meat       1000 MT   24,798   78,954    54,156   218.39

poultry meat   1000 MT    8,953   49,125    40,172   448.69

milk total     1000 MT  344,590  526,569   181,979    52.81

cow milk       1000 MT  313,805  458,645   144,840    46.15