Vet services geared to First Nations

The Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association will be launching a program in June that will deliver crucial veterinary services to northern and First Nations communities across the province.

Working with the Winnipeg Humane Society and Manitoba government, the Limited Access Vaccinator Program was approved at the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) annual general meeting at the end of January.

“This is one of the first programs in Canada that’s operating in this way,” MVMA executive director Corey Wilson told the Sun. “We’re definitely first province in Canada and one of the first (places) in North America to offer a program like this.”

The initiative, part of the MVMA’s response to the acute shortage of veterinarians in Manitoba, directly engages private veterinarians with communities to deliver essential services by allowing registered veterinary technologists and trained non-veterinarians to administer procedures such as vaccinations and deworming.

“We think it’s very important that these services occur under the supervision of a veterinarian,” Wilson said. “Under this program, everything is happening under the supervision of a vet.”

A working group formed in the fall of 2021 spearheaded the program following a request from the Winnipeg Humane Society for collaboration with the MVMA and the province’s Chief Veterinary Office.

After extensive consultations — including written feedback from June to September 2023 and a virtual consultation session last September — and thorough analysis and review, the groundwork for the program was laid.

By facilitating vaccinations and basic veterinary care in underserved regions, the program strives to mitigate the spread of diseases such as rabies, which is a significant health threat in communities with limited veterinary access.

Rabies, which is fatal once symptoms begin, can be treated with animal vaccines and antibody injections for humans. In Canada, rabies primarily spreads through wildlife bites and saliva, with Arctic foxes, skunks and bats carrying distinct rabies strains that pose threats to Manitobans.

Dogs often link rabies transmission among wildlife, domestic animals and humans. In many remote communities without veterinary care, dogs often go unvaccinated, requiring immediate treatment after dog bites. By vaccinating dogs in Manitoba’s vulnerable communities, fewer individuals will require treatment after a dog bite, and fewer dogs will face euthanasia for rabies testing.

The program stands as a testament to what can be achieved when groups work together, Wilson said.

“We are addressing the urgent need for veterinary services in Manitoba’s remote communities above the North 53rd parallel and in First Nations communities,” he said. “This collaborative effort is not just about delivering veterinary care; it’s about enabling high standards of animal health care across the province, building stronger community relationships, and respecting the diverse needs and values of Indigenous Peoples.”

The association aims to establish a veterinary service model that’s effective, culturally attuned and tailored to Manitoba’s unique attributes, Wilson said.

Under the program, designated vaccinators will operate under sponsoring veterinarians’ supervision, ensuring safe and efficacious service delivery.

Dr. Alexandra Jerao, a veterinarian with the province’s Chief Veterinary Office, believes the program will be a meaningful contribution to the reconciliation process with Indigenous communities.

“By training individuals to provide essential veterinary services to their community, we are not only improving animal health and welfare and protecting public health, but also honouring the principles of respect, partnership and cultural understanding,” Jerao said.

“This effort reflects our commitment to building bridges and fostering relationships based on mutual trust and respect with Indigenous Peoples. We believe that through this program, we can make a positive impact and demonstrate our dedication to the principles of reconciliation in a tangible and impactful way.”

The Chief Veterinary Office will look at the data that comes out of the program to determine what type of care is being provided throughout the province, Wilson said.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun