A brief History of the World Veterinary Association

Author: Erin Asch

An essay by Erin Asch, Student, USA

The World Veterinary Association evolved from a meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in 1863, which was convened by Professor John Gamgee of the Veterinary College of Edinburgh. He invited veterinarians from across Europe to a conference to discuss epizootic diseases and ways to control and prevent them. This was the first International Veterinary Congress, which later became known as the World Veterinary Congress. In Hungary, Budapest, in 1906, at the 8th World Veterinary Congress, it was decided an organizational link between Congresses was needed, and the Permanent Committee was formed to serve that purpose.

In 1953, at the 15th Congress in Stockholm, Sweden, members decided to create an international organization. The Permanent Committee worked to develop the Constitution of the World Veterinary Association. This was presented at the 16th Congress in 1959, held in Madrid, Spain, and the World Veterinary Association was founded. Today this association works with other international organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Office of Epizootics (OIE), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The organization’s efforts focus on animal health and welfare, public health, and the environment.

The World Veterinary Association (WVA) is comprised of national veterinary associations from countries around the world, as well as international associations of veterinary specialists. After much consultation with member nations, its organization was restructured in 1996 in an attempt to more effectively reflect its constituency, with a new constitution adopted at the General Assembly in 1997. Instead of an executive committee made up of seven regional vice-presidents, its main bodies now are the President’s Assembly, the Council, and the Executive Committee.

The President’s Assembly (PA) replaced the former General Assembly. It consists of the presidents of all the member associations and directs policy for the WVA. It meets at the World Veterinary Congress, or more often if a special meeting is called. The Council is made up of regional representatives and members from the specialist groups. It is responsible for implementing policy from the PA and operating on its behalf in the years between Congresses. It meets annually. The Executive Committee (EXCOM) is composed of the President and the two Vice-Presidents. It answers to the Council and handles the daily business of the WVA, meeting twice annually and communicating more often through telephone conferences.

Members of the WVA come from more than seventy nations around the world. The national veterinary association of each country is responsible for paying membership fees for the number of veterinarians in that association. Developing nations, and those suffering economic hardship (as determined by Gross National Product), may be offered reduced membership rates at the discretion of the Council. There is a fixed minimum and maximum fee for both national and associate members. A member association in arrears will be unable to vote, host a World Veterinary Congress, or nominate members for elected office or a seat on the Council. Their representatives in the President’s Assembly will not be eligible for nomination to office or Council.

The goals of the WVA include maintaining and expanding its position as the recognized representative of the global veterinary profession, able to represent all the aspects of this field. It aims to do this by enhancing communication both within the veterinary profession, and between itself, the general public, and regulatory bodies. The organization would like to increase its number of members, and improve mass media relations both within the veterinary profession and with the general public. Leaders of the organization should have credibility and authority. The WVA intends to respond to contemporary issues of relevance to the profession, and to be capable of advising veterinary professionals as well as regulatory bodies and members of the general public. The volunteers who lead the organization must be competent and motivated to act in the best interests of the veterinary profession. The WVA will continue to supervise the organization of the World Veterinary Congresses in addition to promoting regional veterinary science events, as well as developing policies related to veterinary science that will be of interest to the general public. The WVA intends to promote and develop partnerships and coalitions to further its policies. To accomplish all this, the WVA must be financially stable, ensuring its capability in the future.

The WVA, in 2001, began celebrating World Veterinary Day on the last Saturday of April. It is intended to promote the work of veterinary professionals from all over the world as they work to improve human and animal welfare, food safety, practices of animal transport and quarantine, the environment, and environmental conservation and protection. World Veterinary Day is themed every year, with veterinary professionals doing what they can in their own localities. In 2011, the theme was “Rabies”. This was observed in many countries by vaccinating and spaying or neutering dogs, as well as presentations and discussions on the prevention and control of rabies. Previous themes have included “One World, One Health: More Cooperation between Veterinarians and Physicians” (2010), and “Veterinarians and Livestock Farmers: A Winning Partnership” (2009).

2011 was World Veterinary Year, celebrating the founding of the first veterinary school in 1761 in Lyon, France, by the French veterinarian Claude Bourgelat. This was essentially the start of the veterinary profession as well as the beginning of comparative biopathology. It has been celebrated by veterinary professionals and organizations around the world, including the WVA, an associate member of the Executive Council of Vet2011.

One of the primary functions of the WVA since its inception has been the holding of World Veterinary Congresses. These used to be held every four years, but now occur every other year in a different country. Veterinary professionals from around the world are encouraged to attend. At the most recent Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, the theme was “Caring for Animals: Healthy Communities,” focusing on safety and security in food production and on disease control. Many discussions and workshops were held to provide opportunities for further professional education, including such diverse topics as responsible use of antimicrobials, predator control, anesthesia of large African animals, and epidemiologic outbreaks in different animal populations.

The next World Veterinary Congress will be held in Prague, Czech Republic in 2013, where the WVA will celebrate, among other things, its own 150th anniversary. It will be organized by the Chamber of Veterinary Surgeons of the Czech Republic. Dr. Tjeerd Jorna, immediate past president of the WVA, hopes to have even more national associations as members by that time. The scientific program so far will include events discussing medicine and surgery in food and companion animals.

The World Veterinary Association has existed in one form or another for almost 150 years, striving to unite and educate veterinary professionals from all countries for the benefit of animals, people, and the environment. The escalating pace of travel and communication globally will present more and more challenges to all medical professions, and human reliance on animals for food, labor, and companionship is only likely to increase with the global population. The World Veterinary Association continuously works to improve its organization to remain relevant and effective in a rapidly changing future.