Restoring Iraq's veterinary infrastructure

Veterinarians work to enhance national animal health program
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Iraqi veterinarians made considerable progress in planning the rebuilding of the veterinary infrastructure of their country during a three-day workshop organized by the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Agriculture, with considerable support from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ninety veterinarians—representing the Iraqi government, veterinary schools, laboratories, and private practices—from 16 of the 18 governorates in the country participated in the workshop. Six civilian veterinarians from the United States and five veterinarians from the U.S. Army Civil Affairs stationed in Iraq helped organize and facilitate the meeting. Attendees ultimately risked their lives traveling through Iraq to reach the facility in Erbil where the event was held in August.

At the workshop, the Iraqi veterinarians set aside issues that others must resolve, such as funding, security, and geographic and religious differences, and instead focused on collaborating to enhance animal health in the country.

One of the more substantial outcomes was the initial planning for an Iraqi Animal Health Organization. The organization will be patterned after the U.S. Animal Health Association, which works with governments, universities, veterinarians, national livestock and poultry organizations, and others to control livestock diseases in the United States.

"They're going to be networking more and hopefully developing an equivalent to the AVMA there as well," said Dr. Paula Cowen, director of professional development of staff for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Veterinary Services.

Dr. Cowen was one of six members of the international team who designed the workshop. The other members were Dr. Mo Salman, a professor of veterinary epidemiology of the Animal Population Health Institute at Colorado State University; Dr. Craig Carter, professor of epidemiology at the University of Kentucky; Dr. Prema Arasu, director of international programs at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Max Coats, retired deputy director of the Texas Animal Health Commission; and Dr. Linda Logan, USDA International Services area director for North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, and Near East.

The U.S. Army Civil Affairs veterinarians who helped organize the workshop were Col. Sidney McDaniel, Lt. Col. Deanna Brown, Maj. Bonnie Martin, Capt. Kristin Bloink, and Capt. Rose Grimm.

In addition to the Iraqi Animal Health Organization, the group began to plan for an Iraqi veterinary scientific conference scheduled for fall 2007. The group appointed an organizing committee, which included six Iraqi veterinarians along with two U.S. veterinarians—Drs. Cowen and Salman.

The Iraqi veterinarians also began developing a National Animal Health Plan at the workshop. The group agreed to create training sessions for each veterinary discipline supporting the plan. Also, a coordinating committee representing all veterinary sectors and geographic regions will be established to support the plan.

The workshop was part of a series of meetings aimed at rebuilding the veterinary infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first meeting was held in Kuwait City in September 2004 and another took place at the AVMA Annual Convention/World Veterinary Congress in Minneapolis in July 2005. This workshop was different, however, because it focused exclusively on the needs of Iraq. Also, more Iraqi veterinarians attended because the event was held in their own country and government approval for travel wasn't required. Finally, the workshop format encouraged more interaction and creative brainstorming than the previous meetings' lecture formats.

"We noticed at the earlier meetings that it was kind of hard to get (the Iraqi veterinarians) to express opinions and discuss things," Dr. Carter said. Once the veterinarians were in their breakout groups, though, they went straight to work.

"They just jumped in; the discussion was rich," he said.

"I think that this is really positive news," Dr. Cowen said about the accomplishments made by the Iraqi veterinarians. "It doesn't often get conveyed out of that part of the world how desperately these people want a better life—want an active (veterinary) profession that they're proud of—and they're willing to risk their lives to make that happen."