ISLAMABAD: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a US-based animal rights non-profit organisation, has offered to help Pakistan implement humane practices in veterinary and medical schools and end animal testing in Pakistan through a series of reforms.

The offer was made during a zoom meeting between the prime minister’s strategic reforms adviser, Salman Sufi, and PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, Chief of the Science Advancement and Outreach Division Dr Katherine Roe and Vice President of International Laboratory Methods Shalin Gala on July 22, 2022.

PETA had approached Mr Sufi, after a viral video footage revealed veterinary students in at least three institutions in Pakistan were involved in inhumane practices on animals, such as operating on animals without anaesthetics and denying them post-operative care despite excruciating pain.

On June 30, Salman Sufi announced an initial set of historic strategic reforms that included barring animals from being used for live testing in any veterinary college or industrial complex in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

PETA says outdated and cruel testing in Pakistan must be replaced by non-animal methods

“This is a great start and we fully support this measure, and we agreed that more can and should be done since many of the veterinary schools are geographically outside of ICT and are not obligated to follow this new reform policy,” said PETA in a response.

It underscored Pakistan should issue a circular or a regulatory reform that explicitly embraced humane simulation training models for veterinary education and ban training methods that were not medically necessary and did not directly benefit animals involved at the federal level or through the Pakistan Veterinary Medical Council.

PETA cited numerous simulation models for both basic and advanced veterinary and zoology training, such as SynDaver Surgical Canine model, the Critical Care Jerry and Critical Care Fluffy models, the Virtual Animal Anatomy, and Biosphera softwares, to avoid harming animals during the training.

“As such, we are proposing a new collaboration with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Salman Sufi to help provide advanced simulation models so that universities in Pakistan can transition to harm-free and humane veterinary education. We are currently working with Salman Sufi to gather information and do an assessment of the universities’ needs with respect to acquiring simulation models so we can best plan how to assist them,” Mr Gala said.

In response to questions on areas of collaboration with Pakistan, PETA shared more topics that it was addressing with Mr Sufi, such as modernising medical training.

Shalin Gala said before the current Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) came into being, PETA was in communication with the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) to advise them on various reforms for their undergraduate medical (or MBBS) curriculum to replace the use of animals nationwide with non-animal methods.

According to Mr Gala, PETA had advised them to adopt its proposed curriculum reform language stating, “no animals or animal parts shall be used for any aspect of the MBBS curriculum including but not limited to practical labs, learning objectives, contents, teaching/learning strategy, teaching aids and assessments. Only non-animal teaching, learning, demonstration and assessment methods shall be used such as didactic methods, interactive computer-aided learning (CAL), human patient simulators (HPS), human cadavers, supervised clinical practice or other non-animal models”.

This reform, if enacted, would mirror similar reforms adopted internationally as well, he added.

“We would like for Pakistan’s MBBS curriculum to have the same non-animal training standard and use modern simulation technology. We hope to work with Salman Sufi to move this strategic reform forward, which will put Pakistan’s medical education system in sync with the US, Canada, India and others that no longer use animals for undergraduate medical training,” Mr Gala said.

In 2014, following discussions with PETA India, the University Grants Commission in India issued a notification ending dissection and experimentation, for training purposes, in university and college zoology and life sciences undergraduate and postgraduate courses, sparing 19 million animals in that country alone from being killed and cut apart for dissection every year.

PETA asserted its scientists were eager to work with Mr Sufi on setting up a national database in Pakistan for approved non-animal biomedical research and training methods, and drafting regulatory language that the use of animals for such purposes must be replaced by approved non-animal methods that appear in the database.

It also intended to assist conduct scientific reviews of the efficacy of animal use to identify additional areas in which such use had failed to advance human health, or in which non-animal methods were now available, and could be ended quickly.

While technical skills were important, it was also of the utmost importance to instill a culture of care in veterinary training. Creating a dichotomy between the animals used for training and the animal companions seen in an examination room did not benefit the veterinary profession, according to PETA.

“We are currently exploring ways to create materials relevant to Pakistani society and potentially incorporating this compassion-building programme into current school curricula,” the animal rights organisation said.

In response to a question on trafficking of animals, PETA said Mr Sufi mentioned his proposed reform to seize wildlife held in unsuitable living conditions and repatriate them to relevant countries for rehabilitation.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2022

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