NEAT project: a European network to integrate economics and veterinary medicine
To optimize resource allocation in a global production setting characterized by the spread of new and re-emerging epidemics, veterinary medicine professionals need to be able to base emergency management on reasoned decisions. It is particularly important to substantiate health information with data generated by economic models and forecasting systems, thereby putting the concept of health economics into effect.
Despite the array of positive experiences in this direction, there is still a growing need, among veterinary professionals, to create a shared culture which can build on this new way of working. This is the concept underlying the NEAT research project (Networking to enhance the use of economics in animal health education, research and policy making in Europe and beyond), whose objective is to train professionals, in higher education and in the workplace, to organize and manage animal health by integrating scientific evidence with economic assessment.
The aim of NEAT is to bring together different entities to establish a network of contacts in the teaching, research and policy-making fields, and to enhance basic training in the sector by sharing knowledge, best practices and experience in economics applied to animal health management. The project is funded by the European Union and its extensive partnership includes the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie.
NEAT was launched in October 2010 and is an ERASMUS LLP – Life Long Learning Programme project funded by the European Union. It is coordinated by the Royal Veterinary College (Great Britain) and activities are carried out in cooperation with 60 partners, divided into working groups (or work packages – WPs) to perform the project tasks. The partners come from three different areas:
- educational institutions: agricultural colleges, universities and training entities;
- private organizations: representatives from the production sector (agricultural, food and veterinary-related companies and associations; veterinary associations);
- public sector agencies and organizations: government and other public authorities (research institutes, international organizations, non-government organizations, regional veterinary services, local monitoring services).
The project also has 41 associated partners which provide equipment and support to improve the quality of the consortium’s work.
NEAT will run until September 2015.
The aim of the project is to apply economics to animal health in health professional training in Europe and beyond. This will give veterinary and livestock organizations and businesses access to professionals trained to enhance working practice with appropriate economic and management assessments.
Specifically, the NEAT project has set the following objectives (in brackets, the division of tasks by work package):
- to improve organizational coordination for those developing the content of university curricula in animal health economics (all WPs);
- to identify the teaching and training needs of undergraduates, postgraduates and established professionals (WP2 and WP3);
- to develop study programmes, course content, teaching and training materials for undergraduate and postgraduate courses and established professionals (WP4);
- to disseminate teaching and training materials and curricula (WP5);
- to evaluate the delivery of teaching and training materials (WP6).
The role of IZSVe
The Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (IZSVe, partner 17) is a member of WP2. The Institute was involved in the initial drafting and administration of a fact-finding questionnaire to determine the type of training received by professionals working in the field of animal health in Europe and beyond, and identify their current and future training needs in relation to animal health economics. The questionnaire also asked whether the respondents’ organizations provided or encouraged training in animal health economics and level of depth.
The questionnaire was diversified by type of organization (universities, representatives of the production sector, public bodies) and then transmitted to the project partners to be administered in the respective countries. In Italy it was distributed to professionals working at Italian Istituti Zooprofilattici Sperimentali, regional veterinary services, the Ministry of Health, and professional associations.
The survey was conducted by email from 20 May to 14 June, 2013. A total of 264 people (39%) answered the questionnaire. Most responses came from educational institutions, 86 from private organizations, and 77 from public bodies. Findings revealed that economics was widely applied to animal health among the respondents and constituted a considerable part of their professional activities. However, training opportunities in this field were limited. Public organizations and training bodies were interested in economic impact and animal-health-related intervention decisions, whereas representatives of the production sector were more interested in economic management.
In August 2013, IZSVe took part in a review of the literature on economic methods, techniques and concepts in animal health. Overall the majority of publications dealt with highly contagious animal diseases (e.g. foot and mouth, classical swine fever, avian influenza), even in industrialized countries where they are not usually endemic. Cattle was the most extensively studied species. Half of the publications referred to the situation in Europe, with a predominance of publications from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States. Results suggest there is still room for the development of new or updated literature in this discipline.
Lastly, very few text books were available on the subject and some of them were not recent.