AVMA Answers: Coordinating international affairs

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What is your role as staff coordinator of international affairs?

Dr. Beth Sabin Dr. Beth Sabin, an assistant director in the AVMA Education and Research Division, responds:

This is a new position that evolved from all of the international work that the AVMA has done over the years—from the AVMA Council on Education's accreditation process for foreign veterinary colleges to the AVMA's involvement in the World Veterinary Association to AVMA efforts to advance public health and animal welfare internationally.

Before, there was no formal infrastructure to coordinate the AVMA's international activities. That is what led to formation of the AVMA Committee on International Affairs in 2007, headed by the volunteer AVMA director of international affairs. Last year, the committee suggested there should be a staff position dedicated to international coordination. And that's exactly what this role is; it's coordination. It's knowing who is doing what within the AVMA and making sure there's information transfer where there needs to be.

How has the AVMA been involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, and China?

Since 2004, the AVMA has participated in conference calls with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and other interested parties to help coordinate efforts to rebuild the animal health infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The AVMA has done more work with Afghanistan because members of the fledgling Afghanistan Veterinary Association asked for guidance in building their association. The AVMA hosted the AVA's chief executive officer for a monthlong exchange, and I represented the AVMA at the first national meeting of the AVA. The AVMA has supported Afghan veterinarians coming to the AVMA Annual Convention and provided complimentary journal subscriptions to the Afghan veterinary schools and AVA.

Iraq's veterinary association has never approached the AVMA directly for assistance, so the AVMA's involvement in Iraq has been more peripheral—connecting people here who want to donate veterinary journals, books, and equipment with appropriate groups there as well as supporting Iraqi veterinarians coming to the AVMA convention.

The new Chinese Veterinary Medical Association approached the AVMA recently. Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA executive vice president, went to the first CVMA meeting last fall. Dr. Larry M. Kornegay, AVMA president, will be going to the next CVMA meeting to talk about how the profession is regulated and how veterinary education is assessed in the U.S.

What are a few examples of AVMA participation in international organizations and projects?

One good example is Dr. DeHaven being chair of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) ad hoc group on veterinary education. As the profession worldwide looks at educational standards, I believe that AVMA's voice being heard within this international group is a very good thing.

The AVMA has representatives on the U.S. delegation to the OIE and to two working groups of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The OIE and Codex set the standards for international trade in animals and animal products. The AVMA also participates in meetings of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, among other multinational veterinary meetings, and the AVMA Executive Board will be nominating an AVMA member to the board of the Pan-American Association of Veterinary Sciences.

We have North American veterinary leadership meetings between the AVMA, Canadian VMA, and Mexican veterinary associations. The last meeting was in December 2009. We discussed education, associations, workforce issues, and the role of veterinarians in advocating for public health and animal welfare as well as animal health.

The AVMA also is involved in World Veterinary Year in 2011. This is a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the first school dedicated to teaching veterinary medicine, in Lyon, France. The AVMA is on the executive council of the Vet 2011 Committee, and we lead the U.S. committee's efforts to plan celebratory events.

Why should U.S. veterinarians care about international veterinary medicine?

I know it sounds trite, but the U.S. doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's only become more obvious that what happens in other parts of the world will ultimately have an impact here, and what happens here impacts elsewhere. The more veterinarians can work together to advance the profession in the U.S. and worldwide, the better we will be able to carry out our oath—to protect animal health, relieve animal suffering, conserve animal resources, promote public health, and advance medical knowledge.