September 20, 2006 | By: Aimee Nielson
LEXINGTON, KY.

Two years ago U.S. Army veterinarians recognized a need to help Afghanistan and Iraq rebuild their animal health infrastructure. University of Kentucky epidemiology professor Craig Carter was part of that group, and he wanted the result of his participation to be effective disease prevention and control in animals and a more abundant source of protein for the people of both countries.

Carter works in the UK College of Agriculture’s Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center and also in the UK College of Public Health. His active and reserve military career spans four decades, including service in Vietnam, Desert Storm and Afghanistan. Carter was one of six key individuals brought together to conduct workshops aimed at helping Iraqi veterinarians plan and implement a National Animal Health Program, similar to programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first workshop was held in Kuwait City in September 2004. 

That workshop identified long- and short-term needs and facilitated a concerted effort to rebuild animal health programs in the two countries. Carter said enormous progress was made in Afghanistan through subsequent workshops held by technical experts. The group was able to gather again in July 2005 at the World Veterinary Congress in Minnesota. 

Carter said that from the beginning, Iraqis wanted to hold workshops in their own country, but it was difficult for them to get travel visas and approval from the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. Finally in August 2006, with U.S. Army reconstruction funding, more than 80 veterinarians came together in Erbil, Iraq. The group included eight female veterinarians, with representation from the central governments of Iraq and Kurdistan, and most universities, laboratories and private practices from 16 of the 18 Iraq governorates. Carter was part of an international team that included representatives from the U.S. Army, the USDA, North Carolina State University and Colorado State University, and a retired veterinarian from Texas.

The workshop’s purpose was to develop a framework for enhancing national animal health capacity through integration of government, academic and private sector veterinary capabilities. Participants had to brainstorm, collaborate, prioritize and network with their colleagues.

“This process was definitely not encouraged under the regime of Saddam Hussein,” Carter said. “The participants related repeatedly how much they wanted a better life and for their profession to play a significant role in the recovery of the Iraqi economy and quality of life. Indeed, they literally risked their lives to attend the workshop.”

Carter added that many Iraqi veterinarians routinely receive death threats because they are working to rebuild the country and to make the new system of government work. To preserve their anonymity, photos of the conference were not printed.

“For four long days, the brave participants disregarded obstacles of security, lack of funding, and geographic and religious differences,” he said.

Some of the conference outcomes included beginning plans for an Iraqi veterinary scientific conference to be held within 18 months; starting plans for a new Iraqi Animal Health Organization, patterned after the U.S. Animal Health Association; developing training sessions for each veterinary discipline supporting the new National Animal Health Program; developing a coordination committee to support the NAHP and donating selected textbooks to the nine veterinary schools in Iraq.

Carter said many challenges lie ahead before the conference goals are carried out.

“Iraqi agriculture has many challenges with security and funding right at the top,” he said. “But beyond that, the Iraqi veterinary profession will have to work hard to organize their efforts toward building an effective animal health program that will build and protect their herds from endemic and exotic diseases. In the past, everyone turned to Baghdad to solve all their problems. This mindset needs to change such that the Iraqis take charge of their own destiny. The most recent workshop focused on these issues.”

Iraq has great potential for a viable and competitive agricultural economy if certain diseases are eliminated, Carter said.

“There are many opportunities to improve the quality of life for Iraqis via agricultural recovery and improvement,” he explained. “For example, brucellosis is a common disease in sheep and goats that easily infects people, and it can be fatal. It is estimated that about 3 percent of Iraqis have clinical brucellosis at any one point in time. Most of the United States has eradicated brucellosis and it has had a huge positive effect on public health. The same thing is possible for Iraq.”

Carter added that establishing programs to improve animal health will improve overall productivity and a healthier protein source for the populace. 

“Iraq has the potential to become strong marketers of cattle, sheep, goats, poultry and other species,” he said.

Nancy Cox, UK College of Agriculture associate dean for research and director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, believes Carter’s involvement in the effort to rebuild veterinary services in the Middle East also helps the college.

“Craig’s service reflects well on the college,” she said. “He is applying his skills in Kentucky to develop a statewide animal health information system. We appreciate the fact that Craig is also applying his skills to reconstruct an animal health system in Iraq, basically from the ground up. It underscores how important health management is to a reliable and safe food system.”

Contact: 

Craig Carter, 859-253-0571, ext. 124, Nancy Cox, 859-257-3333