Dr Mark Schipp wraps up 2021

14 Dec 2021

Wrapping up 2021 

As 2021 draws to a close, we reflect on the past year. Much has been achieved despite the many challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our work and lives. As an essential service, veterinarians have worked hard to continue to provide veterinary care amidst the workforce challenges of staff shortages and busy workloads, together with the increased demands on our mental health and wellbeing.    

As a unified profession we support each other and strive to address the various issues which are impacting the veterinary sector. I commend the AVA for their continued efforts to support veterinarians, and for encouraging dialogue on progressing change such as through the Workforce Shortage Forum which has sparked many ideas for further discussion. 

I encourage everyone to reach out and check in on colleagues, and whether it is for yourself or a colleague, there are many resources available including the AVA’s VetHealth initiative which can provide insight and support. 

One Health approach and collaboration 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the impact of animal health systems on human health, our society and economy. Here in Australia, we’re committed to global collaboration and knowledge exchange as part of a One Health approach working to prevent future pandemics of animal origin. As the impacts of climate change become ever more apparent, there will be increasing risk of wildlife and people coming into contact – with the resulting threat of future spill-over events. 

The key to this work is enhanced and effective animal disease surveillance. Wildlife Health Australia (WHA) plays an integral role overseeing the wildlife disease surveillance systems which we rely on to help protect Australia. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is expanding our support and collaboration with WHA so that our wildlife disease surveillance systems can be further enhanced. 

It is through a One Health approach, that we must address the environmental drivers that give rise to zoonotic pandemics, such as urban and agricultural encroachment, biodiversity loss, and human and animal waste entering the environment. Veterinarians have an important One Health role, and I applaud the work of Veterinarians for Climate Action, including the development of their ClimateSmart sustainability initiative for veterinary workplaces – which will empower members of the veterinary profession to be environmental leaders. 

Through my involvement as Australia’s representative to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), I have long championed the need for a strong global veterinary voice. One Health was a key theme of the OIE General Session back in May, and the OIE is adopting an all-hazards approach, with holistic and systems-based thinking to better address One Health and other complex global challenges.  

Earlier this year, the Global Burden of Animal Diseases (GBADs) program was launched, which includes a number of Australian partners including CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness and Murdoch University. The information provided by GBADs provides information to producers to add value to their management of animal health and welfare, and also informs our biosecurity measures, enabling prediction of which diseases to prepare for, based on what’s happening in neighbouring countries. 

During 2021, Australia became chair of the ‘Quads Alliance’ consisting of animal health representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. I have enjoyed leading this important global group to progress evidence-based policy with scientific integrity and transparency, prioritising a One Health approach to global challenges. As a member of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Science Council, I have also been contributing to the implementation of the department’s cross-sectoral Science Strategic Action Plan. 

Through these networks, such as the OIE and Quads Alliance, as One Health leaders, it is our responsibility to progress opportunities that contribute to holistic approaches on critical global challenges, such as preventing the spread of new and emerging diseases, and combatting antimicrobial resistance. 

The wide benefit of vaccination 

During 2021, we have acknowledged several international events such as World Rabies Day and World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, which remind us of the significant role vaccines play in preventing diseases. As veterinarians we are all trusted advocates for animal health and welfare, and this includes our ability to educate and empower those around us about the life-changing importance of vaccination. 

In our daily work, veterinarians help to prevent an array of animal diseases through the vaccination of pets and livestock. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the power of vaccination, reinforcing that vaccination not only protects individuals from disease, but it has far wider positive societal and economic ramifications.  

Responsible antimicrobial use 

In Australia, our robust biosecurity system and good animal health status means we have less incidence of animal diseases compared to some other countries, and for veterinarians our continued responsible and prudent use of antimicrobial medications is necessary to prevent the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).  

We know that AMR is one of the top global public health threats facing humanity, and by following antimicrobial prescribing guidelines and only using antimicrobials when appropriate, collectively we can all reduce the risk of AMR. I encourage every veterinarian to make use of the excellent antimicrobial stewardship resources developed by the AMR Vet Collective. 

This is one of many areas in which veterinarians have an important role to play in safeguarding not only the health of our animals, but of people and our shared environment as well. Veterinarians are central to this One Health approach, and whilst the veterinary profession may be dealing with various challenges, it is comforting to remember that our expertise and advocacy is valued. 

As we wrap up the year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas. Throughout the pandemic and the workforce challenges that the veterinary profession is grappling with, together we are united in our veterinary vocation and it is through unity, collegiality and support of each other that we will successfully achieve our professional goal of advocating for the optimal health and welfare for the animals we all care for.