Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Vets cry foul - JMVA questions Gov’t’s commitment to sector with state funding still not restored for students

Published:Wednesday | September 11, 2019 | 12:13 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

The Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association (JVMA) has called into question Government’s commitment to the animal health sector in the wake of its failure to fund any veterinary medicine course, even as it announced scholarships for 47 more medical students at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

In a press release yesterday, the JVMA said it noted with great interest the recent announcement by the Government that it was increasing the number of sponsored spaces at The UWI’s medical school from 55 to 102.

“While we are happy for the human medical students and colleagues who will benefit, [but] we are forced to ask the question, ‘what about us?’” the JMVA said in a release signed by Public Relations Officer Dr Simone Johnally.

The JVMA contends that the continuing failure to bolster the ranks of the veterinarians is most egregious, given that veterinary medicine remains the most underserved arm of the medical professions in Jamaica.

The JMVA said that aspiring veterinarians were deserving of more support as their practice does not only cover animal health but has wider implications for human health, too.

When contacted, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton directed The Gleaner to seek answers from the education ministry.

“Anything that has to do with training is not health,” Tufton said. “[The] Ministry of Education controls all training in Jamaica – nurses, everything.”

When The Gleaner reached out to the minister overseeing the education portfolio, Karl Samuda, he was in Parliament and unable to address the issue.

FUNDING CUT

In the 2015-2016 school year, Jamaican students studying veterinary science at the St Augustine Campus of The UWI were ambushed by a Cabinet decision to discontinue funding 85 per cent of their tuition fee. Dentistry students were also affected.

This decision was not communicated and the students only learnt of it when they arrived at St Augustine.

“New students were not even informed of the change until they arrived at the university in Trinidad to matriculate, being told they had to pay US$27,000 per year, up from US$4,000 – far out of reach for them all,” the JVMA recalled.

The JMVA successfully lobbied on the students’ behalf to have the subsidy reinstated for that class, which will graduate next year. However, the Ministry of Education had stated that it would not be funding students in subsequent years.

Then Permanent Secretary Elaine Foster-Allen defended the decision on the grounds that the veterinary students were not returning to Jamaica after completing their studies, in keeping with their contractual obligations.

“I don’t know of any of the students that have been trained on that veterinary programme having come back to give service to Jamaica,” Foster-Allen said in 2015. “I have asked my tertiary-level people to do some research and it does not appear so. So they get a scholarship, they are training and they do not necessarily come back to Jamaica to give service.”

However, Dr Paul Cadogan, then public relations officer of the JMVA, charged that Foster-Allen was misinformed.

“The ministry’s claim is nonsense. The majority of Jamaican UWI grads for vet med have come home,” said Cadogan. “Fifty-eight have returned since 1998, with four this year (two still with registration pending) and six last year. Forty-one registered School of Veterinary Medicine grads are currently resident here, pretty much half of the active veterinarians in the country, with nine of the 17 vets employed by the Ministry of Agriculture at the Vet Services Division being graduates of the programme.

“The list of registered vets is available from the Jamaica Veterinary Board. Obviously, the Ministry of Education is working with misinformation, from what source I have no idea,” added Cadogan.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com