Dr. Sylvia Baluka Angubua is a veterinary doctor in Uganda, a lecturer at Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine and the President of Uganda Veterinary Association (UVA), the body that governs all veterinarians in Uganda.
Dr. Baluka has a solid academic background. She has a doctorate and first degree degree in Veterinary Medicine from Makerere University and a Master’s Degree in Food Safety from the Michigan State University, USA. In addition, she has an MBA from Makerere University, a Post-Graduate Diploma (Human Resource Management) at the Uganda Management Institute and a Certificate in Integrated Pest Management & Food Safety at Wageningen University, Netherlands.
She talked to our reporter about her journey to become a female veterinary doctor, the challenges that comes with that, her plans and the status of veterinary medicine in Uganda. Here are excerpts from the interview.
QN: Tell us about yourself?
I was in born in the 1970s to Mr Koiti Muhaita Sylvester, a prominent science teacher during the time and Mrs. Koiti Agnes Katooko in Budaka district, Eastern Uganda during President Idi Amin’s era.
I attended Tororo Girls School for both O and A level. I Joined Makerere University for a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine in October 1993 and graduated in 1999. I am married to Mr Peter Angubua and we have three children.
QN: Why did you choose Veterinary Medicine?
It was not an afterthought. I knew from primary school that I wanted to do medicine because i was a very bright student with keen interest in Biology. The conflict was on whether to do human or veterinary medicine. By high school, I had concluded that human medicine was not for me and, despite discouragement from colleagues and some teachers who felt it was a course meant and dominated by males, I chose Veterinary Medicine. That dream came closer when I applied for and was admitted to study Veterinary Medicine at Makerere University. My love for animals especially cattle and chicken also played a part in pushing me into Veterinary Medicine.
QN: What are some of the challenges you faced as a young female veterinary student and a veterinary practitioner?
An early challenge for female students at the Veterinary College at Makerere University, who were the minority, was discouragement from older students who felt we could not handle and would most probably be discontinued from the course before long. It was actually a common practice for least performing students to be discontinued. I almost dropped out on my own but got encouragement from my lecturers as some of them became my mentors like Dr. Semambo from Animal Breeding Center.
The other big challenge was encountered in practical sessions, when were supposed to restrain big animals for nose ringing, injections or deworming. This was specifically challenging for the female students, given their natural physical weakness. It is a challenge that needs to be addressed. I have visited colleges in the USA and they have animal restraining facilities where a student does not have to use a lot of physical energy. It is not surprising that those colleges have more female veterinary students than males. Colleges here can also work with government to put such facilities in place so that more females are encouraged to apply for the male-dominated course.
QN: What is the status of veterinary profession in Uganda right now?
Veterinary is a very noble profession and very crucial in the economic development of a country like Uganda that largely depends on agriculture and livestock. The government should therefore give it priority in terms of funding and policies. However, in the recent years, that has not been the case and veterinarians continue to work under unfriendly conditions like low pay and lack of transportation among other challenges which limit our capacity. Previously, most veterinary services were in the public sector with government providing free vaccines and employing most of the veterinarians, but this has changed now because of privatisation.
This has made the public/ farmers to lose trust in us, as now they view private veterinarians as expensive and money oriented. Veterinarians need to rise up and fight for their lost glory
QN: What are your future plans?
Right now, Uganda doesn’t have any veterinary hospital. We only have a small clinic which is housed at the UVA offices. Most people have to take their pets outside the country for simple treatment procedures that can be done locally if we had facilities, because have enough qualified vets.
My plan right now as the President of UVA is to raise funds for a the first modern veterinary hospital in Uganda. You can know whether a family is well off or not by the way it treats the animals in their care. As a country and a continent, we need to change the way we treat our animals because they are the reason we are alive and healthy.
QN: Ugandan farmers have decried the constant quarantines imposed on their livestock? Why are there rampant disease outbreaks?
Livestock quarantine is put in place to safeguard the lives of animals and the public. They are also based on actual threats and therefore very necessary. However, I also understand the frustration of farmers because for them, livestock is a source of livelihood. It’s like denying soldiers a salary for 3 months, of course that would cause a lot of discomfort. The only solution to this problem is to focus on disease outbreak prevention through vaccination and early detection so we don’t have to put quarantines in place.
QN: How do you manage work and family?
I have been married for more than 20 years to my husband. How I manage work and family is by being committed to whatever I do through proper time management. I am also a good Christian who prays every day for God’s guidance. The support from my family, friends and colleagues has also been immense, for which I am always grateful.
QN: Thank you for talking to us. Any last words to veterinarians around the world?
They should stay true to the veterinary profession. Be ethical and always put the life of animals and public health before any other benefits. Together, let’s keep animals and people safe.