Provision of Animal Health (Veterinary) Laboratories
Ratification Date: 03 Aug 2018
Governments must ensure that veterinary laboratory capacity meets Australia’s needs, including those of regional and remote locations. This is essential to maintain Australia’s favourable animal health status.
To achieve this, governments should:
- Maintain adequate government veterinary laboratory capacity, and
- Establish cooperative arrangements with non-government veterinary laboratories to utilise their additional expertise and resources.
- Maintain oversight of the quality of animal health laboratory services in Australia
Both government and non-government animal health laboratories play an essential role in Australia’s animal health system. Adequate capacity is essential to ensure animal health and welfare, public health, early detection of emergency animal diseases, and market access for Australian products.
A competent disease investigation that includes veterinary laboratory services requires: delivery of samples in a timely manner, quality diagnostic systems, appropriate methods for disease exclusion, and test and case interpretation by appropriately qualified veterinarians. Laboratory diagnostic investigation and exclusion capacity must reach beyond livestock disease and include the investigation of wildlife and companion animal disease.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) evaluation in 2015 noted closures of regional government laboratories as impeding the capacity and timeliness of disease surveillance in some regions.1,2 Contraction in regional laboratories potentially drives a loss of veterinary health professionals, and thus knowledge, from these locations. It also results in an increased cost to transport samples which proves a barrier to submission.
Non-government veterinary laboratories provide additional expertise and services and assist to boost overall veterinary laboratory capacity within Australia. Models for cooperative arrangements between government laboratory and non-government laboratory services should be explored and supported. A national accreditation scheme for provision of these services would ensure non-government providers achieve a minimum standard.
At present Australia has a declining number of veterinarians trained and training as pathologists, microbiologists, virologists, and parasitologists. This loss of capacity poses potential economic, health and welfare risks to our animal and human populations. This issue has been identified as a priority by the Animal Health Committee (AHC) during development of a national laboratory diagnostics business plan. The AHC has also recently commissioned a jurisdictional PVS evaluation to assess the current status of all regional and interstate veterinary services, including veterinary laboratory services. The AVA welcomes this commitment by government to addressing these identified issues.
The AVA recommends that Governments provide sustained investment in regional laboratories and disease testing, and put measures in place to streamline laboratory services nationally, including investigating options for:
- A nationally harmonised process for sample submission and testing for notifiable, exotic or emergency animal disease exclusion. This will reduce variation among jurisdictions and improve ease of use for veterinarians. It is recommended that this become part of any review of the AUSVETPLAN Laboratory Preparedness Manual. Ensure coverage of all areas of Australia with an adequate laboratory capacity.
- As part of the jurisdictional PVS audit, assess any deficiencies in laboratory capacity to respond to surges in demand that may occur as part of a significant disease outbreak.
- Evaluate options or models that increase non-government veterinary laboratory involvement in reference laboratory support, to supplement the government laboratory system.
- Increase and resource further training opportunities and career path development for veterinarians in pathology, microbiology, parasitology, virology, and other veterinary laboratory animal health disciplines.
- Ensure government oversight of the quality of animal health laboratory services in Australia.
- Government subsidies for transport of specimens is recommended.
This policy will be used as an advocacy tool to inform governments, agricultural industries and other stakeholders of the vital role that Australia’s veterinary laboratories and trained veterinary pathologists, microbiologists, virologists, parasitologists and other animal health laboratory disciplines play in protecting and maintaining Australia’s favourable animal health and welfare status.
- OIE. The OIE Tool for the evaluation of performance of veterinary services (OIE PVS). 2013 update. http://www.oie.int/en/support-to-oie-members/pvs-evaluations/oie-pvs-tool/. Accessed 13 November 2017.
- OIE. PVS evaluation report: Australia. http://www.oie.int/fileadmin/Home/eng/Support_to_OIE_Members/docs/pdf/FinalReport_PVS_Australia.pdf