NAMIBIA: First schools for vets and pharmacists

The University of Namibia recently launched the country's first schools of engineering and medicine and is planning two more firsts: schools of veterinary science and pharmacy are to open next year. The country suffers serious shortages of professionals in both fields.

With a national herd of cattle numbering around 2.4 million, Namibia faces a critical dearth of veterinarians and relies heavily on expatriates and a few locals trained abroad to take care of its lucrative beef industry.

A recent two-day consultative workshop, jointly organised by the university's faculty of agriculture and natural resources and major stakeholders, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, established the need for the school.

Agriculture Minister John Mutorwa attended the workshop which recommended setting up a steering committee to spearhead the school's establishment. The first group of pre-veterinary students is expected to be admitted in 2011.

Professor Irvin Mpofu, head of the department of animal science which will establish the school, said Namibia was a major exporter of meat to the European Union, US, South Africa and many other countries.

He said Namibia's total annual production of beef amounted to 100,000 tonnes, of which some 8% was exported. It has been estimated that animals and meat products contribute 16% of export earnings.

Mpofu said a large number of diseases and inadequate nutrition were among the challenges the beef industry faced. Trained livestock experts, especially veterinarians, were urgently needed to provide services in animal disease control, veterinary public health, disease epidemiology, training, import and export control as well as diagnostic services.

Given that Namibia exported meat products it was crucial that veterinary protection of animals was guaranteed. "This can only happen if we have adequate personnel, hence this attempt to build local capacity rather than rely on training abroad, which is time consuming and costly," Mpofu said.

Training veterinarians locally would also show the country was serious about maintaining the health of its animals, he added.

Although the government has been sending students to foreign universities for training, the places reserved for foreign students by these universities are often very few. The veterinary school at the University of Pretoria in South Africa reserves only 10 places for all overseas students.

Also, Namibians who go to South Africa to study as veterinarians first have to study veterinary biology for three years before they embark on the four-year veterinary medicine degree. Locally trained veterinarians would qualify within five years.

Official estimates put the number of veterinarians working in Namibia at 110, far short of the 1,000 recommended by the country's development blue-print Vision 2030. To reach this target, Namibia would need to train at least 40 veterinarians each year until 2030.

Edwin Tjiramba, director of communications and marketing at the University of Namibia, told University World News that plans were also well on track to establish a pioneering school of pharmacy.

Namibia faces a critical shortage of pharmacists, with the few available employed by the private sector in the capital Windhoek, leaving other health facilities poorly staffed.

"The school of pharmacy seeks to fill this void. It will fall under the faculty of health sciences which houses the schools of medicine and nursing and public health," he said, adding that wide consultations had been undertaken regarding development of the pharmacy curriculum.

A draft of the curriculum will be presented to the university senate for approval. Should the curriculum be approved, the first pharmacy students are expected to begin learning in February 2011.