Private veterinary practice has existed in Kenya for more than half a century. Between the early 1930s and the mid-1960s, provision of clinical and advisory services almost entirely involved servicing commercial ranches and dairy farms. The Department of Veterinary Services (VSD) was mainly responsible for providing regulatory services in these areas. Until the mid-1960s, public sector veterinary responsibilities were predominantly associated with the prevention of notifiable diseases outside the commercial farming areas. In a major agrarian reform programme initiated in 1954, Kenya initiated an aggressive campaign promoting the dairy industry in the wetter areas of the country among small-scale farmers. In an effort to encourage dairy development, the VSD decided to provide some services, mainly tick control and subsidised artificial insemination. This support had a great positive impact on the ‘smallholder’ dairy industry.
After the end of the colonial administration in 1963, most private practitioners left the country. A decision was therefore taken to transfer the responsibility of providing services of a ‘private goods’ nature, such as clinical services, temporarily to the public sector through the VSD. This was accompanied by significant expansion of training and the deployment of both professional veterinarians and para-professionals. By 1988, personnel costs had escalated to over 80% of the recurrent budget, leaving little for operational costs. This necessitated a policy change, which led to decreased government involvement in the delivery of animal health services. The private sector, as expected, responded appropriately to the change in policy. The Kenya Veterinary Association (KVA) launched a privatisation scheme (the Kenya Veterinary Association Privatisation Scheme) in 1994 to provide members with credit to set up private practices. The first phase of the scheme (1994-1996) was rated a success, with 100% loan repayments. The second phase of the project (from 1997) was characterised by a low number of loan applications, which increased the cost of loan administration per unit. There was some defaulting in loan repayments during this phase. While private veterinary practice took root in the high rainfall, intensive farming areas, this was not the case in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL), where community-based animal health workers (CAHWs) played a prominent role in providing animal health services. The lack of uniformity in the training of these workers denied them recognition by the Kenya Veterinary Board (KVB). An agreement has now been reached between the KVB, the Director of Veterinary Services and the KVA to discontinue the training of CAHWs and to retain and retrain existing workers for disease surveillance and reporting in ASAL areas. In conclusion, private veterinary practice has been successful in areas of high agricultural potential. Expansion to more marginal areas, however, would require incentives or subsidies.