Pankaj Biradar would be preparing for his final-year postgraduate exams if he were not on the field vaccinating cattle against the deadly lumpy skin disease (LSD) and creating awareness among dairy farmers and livestock owners.
But he thinks this is his way of contributing to the nation that has seen more than 67,000 cattle deaths since July.
“As the son of a farmer, I have seen several cattle in my village die for lack of veterinarians. So, I chose a career in this profession. I might have been able to complete my degree in a week from now had there been no break in the academic year. However, that’s not so important right now,” the student of College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Latur’s Udgir said. He is a resident of Nilanga village in the district.
Biradar, 26, is among many students and interns with the six government colleges affiliated to Nagpur-based Maharashtra Animal and Fishery Sciences University (MAFSU) who have become the foot soldiers in the fight against LSD. MAFSU has postponed the PG exams scheduled to start on September 12 for two weeks.
Animal husbandry commissioner Sachindra Pratap Singh said the expertise and the skilled manpower in the government veterinary colleges are being put to good use. “They are helping us in our aim to reduce the mortality rate.”
These foot soldiers have been deployed to district-level polyclinics where they carry out tasks such as administering vaccines, holding awareness programmes, and conveying the needs of rural farmers to the authorities.
Mumbai Veterinary College’s (MVC) first-year PG student Siddhesh Pednekar, 25, feels happy to be on the field. “There are many practical lessons to be taken from this experience which could help each one of us to become a better veterinarian in the future.”
“While we are working to arrest the spread of the disease by taking all preventive measures, we are ready with phased plans in case of eventuality,” Dr Shirish Upadhye, acting dean, MAFSU, said. “Exams are under way for the second-year and final-year undergraduate students which could not have been delayed. However, if the situation demands, these students can also be pressed into service.”
In all, 1,022 personnel, including 150 postgraduate students, 350 interns, some final-year students and their teachers from the six colleges in Mumbai, Satara, Udgir, Parbhani, Nagpur and Akola have been roped in by the Maharashtra government. Additionally, experts from each college are available on WhatsApp at a stipulated time every day for direct interactions with the farmers, livestock owners, and the field officers of the department.
“The idea is to assure them [the farmers] that the animal husbandry department and MAFSU are there to help them in any way possible,” Dr Upadhye said.
MVC has sent 89 students, some support staff, and PG students to villages in Konkan and Nashik divisions, Dr GS Khandekar, professor of veterinary surgery and radiology at the college, said. “Being a vector-borne disease, those tending to the animals need to be educated on sanitation, isolating infected animals, and spraying repellents and anti-parasitic drugs as preventive measures.”