The "Working in Ghana" Project

Veterinary Service Officer

[In her mid-thirties, Madam Sally is married and has four children. She has worked as a government veterinary officer for 16 years, following her completion of post-secondary veterinary science course. It is unusual for a woman to hold such a position. She was interviewed by Philip Awekeya at her government office in a regional center in Northern Ghana.]

I began working life nearly twenty years ago with the National Lotteries. I did not enjoy working there. The pay was too small and I was tied to one place, which was boring. To get relief I had to look out for a new job. Fortunately I was selected from many candidates to undergo a three-year post-secondary course in veterinary science.

As a veterinary officer my duties are not limited to the office. My job takes me into the field nearly three days in week. I mostly deal with large animals: cattle, donkeys, horses, sheep and goats. My main duty is to examine animals suspected to be sick. The animals are either brought to the office grounds or I examine them in the rural villages. I determine what is wrong with them and what type of drugs or vaccine to treat them with. Quite a number of animals suffer from pneumonia, external parasites, rabies, and anthrax.

I get much satisfaction when farmers return to report that the animals I have treated have fully recovered. The people I interact with often show their appreciation by presenting me with eggs or fowls. Sometimes farmers will buy drinks and soap for me and my co-workers when we go into the field to treat their animals.

But I sometimes feel frustrated. Six or more years ago there were plenty of drugs available and they were low in price. Many farmers could afford to treat their animals. During that period there was usually plenty of work for us to do each day. Many people would call on us to come to their homes to treat their animals. But these days, the work is spoiled. The drugs are costly and only a few farmers are prepared to sell some of their animals to get money to treat the rest.

In spite of the infrequent calls on us by farmers, I still enjoy the work because it offers me the chance to operate my own small poultry farm and keep quite a good number of sheep and goats. I make use of my knowledge in veterinary science to establish a small private business which supplements my income and provides eggs and meat for the family.

As a public servant I report for work at 8 a.m. and leave about 5 p.m. Sometimes I leave the house earlier than 8 a.m. if I am to visit the villages to attend to rural farmers. When I am out in the villages I may quit work later than 5 p.m., depending on the work load.

Unlike most other public workers whose work limits them to files and talk and hence no dangers, in my work I use dangerous drugs. For example, most of the vaccines we use for treating rabies and anthrax are live. They can be dangerous to the user, especially when one has a cut.

Unfortunately, the service lacks adequate equipment such as protective clothing, Wellington boots, laboratory coats and gloves which we need so much for protection. I sometimes feel disillusioned because the basic work tools are lacking or the supply is erratic. Because of this one cannot plan a meaningful program of activities for a given period. Due to the inadequate supply of drugs and equipment, we are unable to vaccinate cattle periodically against anthrax and other deadly diseases which are introduced into the region from the neighboring countries.

I have no quarrels with my superior officer or co-workers. The head of my unit is a man slightly older than me. He is generally cheerful and soft-spoken. He relates well with all the junior workers and has time for our personal problems. My relationship with the rest of the office staff is generally cordial. We share jokes at work place and visit each other during weekends and on public holidays. Also when one of us loses a relative, the rest contribute money for our co-worker.

Promotions at my work place are similar to most public services. Our promotion is subject to good recommendations followed by success in an interview. So far I have had two promotions and stand the chance of being promoted to the top non-graduate position in the service. Our pay is also in line with most public servants, for example, we are on the same pay structure as the Ministry of Agriculture. Except for the veterinary surgeons, we in the veterinary service do not get anything extra in terms of medical refund. And at times our traveling expenses are not refunded to us. This lack of care for our health and comfort makes us worried.

To redress the lack of attention to those of us who are not veterinary surgeons, we have formed VEMTAG--Veterinary Medical Technical Association of Ghana--to negotiate with the Ministry of Agriculture for better service conditions. I attend the association's meetings and pay dues regularly. The regional executives of the union travel to Accra to meet with the national leaders and hold consultations with the government regarding our poor working conditions.

My husband and children seem to like the work I do because I occasionally bring home presents such as eggs and fowls from outside, especially when I go to treat animals in the rural areas. These presents and my own farming allow me to make a handsome contribution towards the family upkeep. And the job enables me to interact with many people, both literate and illiterate. It is certainly more interesting than the first one, which was limited to office work which I found quite boring.