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Higher Education Opportunity Act--Conference Report

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. ALLARD. Mr. President, today I wish to speak about a topic that has been important to me for some time the role of veterinarians in safeguarding the public health. Yesterday, the Senate passed the Higher-Ed bill which contained historic language improving veterinary education in this country. This language has important implications for human health. We have been overdue to invest in veterinary medicine as a national asset. Today, there are only 28 colleges of veterinary medicine across the Nation which collectively graduate a mere 2,500 veterinarians per year.

Unfortunately, this number is insufficient to meet demand and leaves our Nation vulnerable to emerging infectious diseases such as west nile virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, Monkeypox and Avian Influenza although there are numerous other examples of animal-born infectious diseases, some of which could be used as biological agents in a terrorist attack.

To meet the critical shortage of public health veterinarians and to augment the ability of veterinary expertise to guide public health, I introduced the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act, S. 746, this Congress and the two previous Congresses. I am pleased that part of the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act made it into the higher-ed reauthorization.

The language in the higher-ed bill will establish a new competitive grant program for capital improvements to allow veterinary medical colleges to expand and graduate more veterinarians trained in public health. As both a veterinarian and a member of the HELP Committee, I have seen first-hand the links between human and animal health. A half-century ago, more people appreciated this too and we were able to all-but eradicate malaria and other animal-born infectious diseases with techniques such as mosquito control and inoculations.

Veterinarians are uniquely qualified to address high-priority public health issues such as animal-to-human transmission of infectious diseases because the curriculum in veterinary medical colleges is significantly different from that of other health professions. In addition to the basic biomedical sciences and the surgical and medical training that physicians receive, veterinarians receive extensive training in population medicine. Veterinary colleges also provide a broad, multispecies, comparative medical approach to disease prevention and control, which is fundamental to understanding the transmission and life cycle of infectious disease agents, especially those that animals share with humans.

Although I hope awareness of the part veterinarians play in promoting public health will improve, I want to note that I am by no means the first Government official to recognize the importance of veterinarians in public health practice. Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, noted that, ``Eleven of the last 12 emerging infectious diseases that we're aware of in the world have probably arisen from animal health sources.'' CDC estimates that more than 60 percent of all infectious organisms that are harmful to people are transmissible between humans and animals. In addition, more than more than 75 percent of newly emerging infectious diseases fitj into this category and, even more important, more than 80 percent of biothreat agents of concern are shared between animals and man. These are the harmful biothreat agents most likely to be used in a bioterrorism attack.

So in closing, I would like to thank Senators Kennedy, Enzi, Mikulski, and Burr for working with me to include this program in the bill. I am grateful for their hard work and support. My hope is that through this new grant program, veterinary colleges will be able to fulfill the needs of the communities that they serve and on a national level will augment the expertise of other public health specialists in preventing or mitigating the effects of possible pandemics or biological terrorist attacks.

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