Maine VMA executive to advise Afghan association

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By Allison Clark

William Bell

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the Afghan Veterinary Association has shifted its focus from serving its 650 members as a medicine and vaccine buying cooperative to functioning as a more traditional, professional association. To aid in its reorganization, the AVA turned to the AVMA and the U.S. state veterinary associations for a part-time consultant. William Bell, executive director of the Maine VMA, answered the call.

"This is a great honor to be part of the economic development program in a nation of very brave and hard-working people," Bell said just a few hours before he traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan, on his first trip to the country as a consultant for the association.

In his new role Bell will make three three-week trips to Afghanistan over 18 months. The Dutch Committee for Afghanistan will fund his trip.

"My first goal is to listen and not make recommendations until I have listened a great deal," Bell said. By next summer, he hopes to have helped the AVA form an organization that enables the country's veterinarians, technicians, and paraprofessionals to obtain the skills and economic and personal status with which they can best contribute to the health and growth of the livestock sector. Bell will consult with the association on organizational management, member services, continuing education, ethics and standards, and government lobbying.

Originally called the Umbrella Veterinary Services Organization, the AVA was formed in 1996 to initially meet the medicine and vaccine needs of the country's livestock. Under the Taliban, the AVA could not rely on government money-the nation's primary source of veterinary medicine funds-for animal health care support. In short, the association, which was renamed in 2003, was expected to provide veterinarians with supplies for Afghan farmers in the absence of an effective government or international support.

Once formed, the AVA supplied medicine and vaccines to Afghan farmers through a network of veterinary professionals involved in the national Veterinary Field Unit system. The VFU system was established during 1996-1998 and serves 255 districts in 28 provinces. The AVA expects the VFU system will gradually shift from the provision of free services to a self-sustained, privatized veterinary service delivery system based on fee-for-service practice.

Headquartered in Kabul, the AVA currently provides more than 16 million vaccine and medicine doses each year and has kept 230 out of 255 VFUs active without government or foreign support. With the fall of the Taliban, the AVA will work to further promote fee-for-service practice and to give the veterinary profession a stronger voice in the new government.