Veterinary profession has long protected animal, public health

Symposium underscores achievements over the years
Published on August 31, 2011
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It can be said that the essence of the veterinary profession stems from an unexpected source—rinderpest.

Talks by two global veterinary leaders at the daylong symposium titled "World Veterinary Year: 250 Years of Improving Animal and Human Health" on July 17 in St. Louis demonstrated how this devastating disease served as a catalyst for the creation of the profession and as a symbol of one of its greatest achievements.

Professor Jean-François Chary, inspector general of the French Ministry of Agriculture and president of the Vet2011 Animation and Coordination Committee, spoke of the profession's heritage and why we celebrate World Veterinary Year today.

Claude Bourgelat of France was one of the preeminent scientific minds during the Age of Enlightenment and an expert horseman (see JAVMA, Jan. 1, 2011).

He noticed discrepancies in previous descriptions of the biomechanics of horses, and attributed this to a lack of anatomic knowledge, Dr. Chary said. This inspired Bourgelat to work with human surgeons in Lyon when they dissected horse carcasses and discussed their findings. From this experience, he had three revelations: an understanding of the difference between the empirical approach and the scientific approach, an appreciation for the similarities between human and animal bodies, and an idea to create a profession of animal doctors.

"Bourgelat is the father of veterinarians and we all belong to the same family. He is indeed creator of the veterinary profession, but he is also the inventor of the concept of comparative biopathology and one health," Dr. Chary said.

Dr. Chary
Professor Jean-François Chary (Photo by Matt Alexandre/Robb Cohen Photography)

A stroke of luck came when King Louis XV wanted to resolve the crisis caused by rinderpest, which had ravaged the countryside. This allowed Bourgelat to set up the first veterinary school in Lyon—and in the world, for that matter.

The Vet2011 committee's objective is to organize events celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Lyon veterinary school. Dr. Chary said the hope is to explain that the veterinary profession is in service to human and animal medicine, and that veterinarians are not only animal doctors but also key players in protecting global health.

The latest figures show Vet2011 has 1,377 corresponding members in 126 countries, where there are 52 national committees. Currently, 365 proposed events—229 of which are accredited by Vet2011—will take place or have already done so in 73 countries.

Coincidentally, another occasion being celebrated this year is the eradication of rinderpest.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) proclaimed May 25 that all 198 countries and territories with rinderpest-susceptible animals were free of the disease, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations declared June 28 that the disease has been eradicated (see JAVMA, July 1, 2011).

Such an achievement would not have been possible without the support of the international veterinary community and efficient tools for control and eradication, said Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the OIE and president of the Vet2011 Executive Council, at the symposium.

Dr. Vallat
Dr. Bernard Vallat (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

The OIE is now working on developing international standards on control programs for foot-and-mouth disease, rabies, and peste des petits ruminants; policies on disease surveillance and notification for wildlife; and tentative official recognition of animal disease status for classical swine fever, African horse sickeness, and PPR.

FMD is the OIE's next target for eradication; it remains in more than 100 countries.

The first global conference on this mission will take place in June 2012 in Thailand. Dr. Vallat estimates it could take about 50 years to eradicate FMD and admits that it's a huge challenge.

Yet, that is the purpose of veterinarians—to contribute to the public good and take care of animal and human health, he said.

In the future, veterinarians will have to deal with the emergence and re-emergence of new diseases in the context of climate change and changing ecosystems, new risks arising at the wildlife-human-animal interface, new risks as a result of globalization, the constant threat of bioterrorism, and societal demands, Dr. Vallat said.