Article by: Hari Yellina
Campbell Costello, a country vet, is loading his little plane on the peaceful Alice Springs tarmac with his gear and numerous surgical instruments while it is cold outside and the sky is clear. As he performs his last-minute checks before take-off, exhaustion can be seen on his face. In order to provide his veterinarian services to struggling outback practises, he is travelling east of the border to Queensland, stopping in Longreach for two days before continuing on to Townsville. Dr. Costello has spent the majority of his career seeing the sector collapse in front of his eyes because veterinarians are hard to find in the bush. It’s not good, according to Dr. Costello. “One of the highest suicide rates in the world is in the veterinary sciences. “In the first five years after graduation, almost 50% of graduates quit their jobs.
“COVID hasn’t been struggling to fill positions like other industries have; instead, this has been a problem for decades.” Veterinarians are currently feeling understaffed and overburdened with the notion of combating an outbreak in Australia, especially with foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease outbreaks as close as Indonesia. “I’m frightened to death. Our veterinary sector is in shambles, he declared. Finally, we have reached the point where we lack the resources necessary to wage a defence. “Remember those pictures we saw in France and the UK in the late ’90s and early ’00s? Australia will be there.”
When infectious diseases like foot and mouth or lumpy skin disease go across the water from Indonesia, veterinarians are the first line of defence in spotting them. Bronwyn Orr, president of the Australian Veterinary Association, believes more work has to be done to involve veterinarians in biosecurity planning. We have significant reservations about the existing strategy, she stated. We want to see far more action and well-thought-out ideas for how the government will use vets. Dr. Orr favours a disease detection strategy that involves more on-the-ground activity. The expert in animal disease, she said, “We don’t have vets on farms hunting for these diseases.”
“Neither the government nor the business community has provided us with the funding to send veterinarians to farms to ensure the welfare of our animals.” Dr. Orr thinks a thorough plan should be in place to utilise the services of Australia’s more than half of veterinarians who work in private practise if or when foot and mouth disease or lumpy skin disease enter the country. In response to any illness epidemic, she noted, “there are a lot of private vets who would probably be pleased to step in and respond.” The issue is that there must be a finance plan in place in order to pay these veterinarians. Professionals cannot be expected to quit their jobs or families without receiving compensation.
An extensive multi-state foot and mouth outbreak is predicted to have a direct economic impact of around $80 billion over the course of ten years, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). Australia’s biosecurity has lately been ramped up, according to the federal government. The strategy calls for the return of detection dogs to airports in the north, including Darwin and Cairns, greater biosecurity training for airport workers, and increased use of social media to inform the public about the disease. If even one animal becomes infected in Australia, a national veterinary emergency plan will be put into place to tackle the disease. It was most recently renewed in 2014, however a newer edition is soon to be released.