Aug 25 - 31, 2008

Pakistan is endowed with a large livestock population well adapted to the local environmental conditions. Thanks to the governments in the past that they, realizing its importance of this sector, had been putting in their best efforts for the promotion of livestock.

Now the situation is so positive that a large number industrialists had also made huge investments in livestocks. According to livestock census (2006) food animals consist of 27.33 million buffaloes, 29.6 million cattle, 53.79 million goats, 26.49 million sheep and 0.9 million camels.

Governments in the past and present are paying special attention to develop this sector of the economy with a view to eradicate poverty from the rural areas. There are many departments working on the development of this sector with special focus on improving the milk and meat production and control and eradication of diseases from the animals.

Livestock and Dairy Development Board (LDDB) was formed by the previous government to work both for milk production improvement, marketing and improving the production of meat to meet the domestic requirement.

The board is going to launch a study with a sum of over Rs 9 million from mid of July to study the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) on Pakistan's livestock sector and to suggest ways and means for control and eradication of this disease from the country. This study would take around a year to be completed and suggesting measures, he added.

Chief Executive of the Board, Dr. Muhammad Afzal while talking to PAGE said the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is an acute, highly contagious febrile condition of cloven footed animals (cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, swine, dear, etc) characterized by excessive salivation and froth, formation of vesicles in the mouth, inter-digital space in the feet and occasionally on teats and udder. Milk production may drop by 25 to 70 percent (for 15 to 25 days) and mastitis is a common consequence of the infection. The infection also results commonly in abortion in crossbred and exotic cattle.

Clinical signs are severer in cattle than buffaloes and sheep and goats usually show milder signs. Exotic cattle and crossbred cattle are particularly susceptible and these animals generally show very severe clinical symptoms and even mortality in many cases. In a mixed herd, the disease will generally appear first in cattle followed by buffaloes and then small ruminants. Young calves are more susceptible and 10 to 22 % mortality has been reported in young calves and kids.

FMD was reported in animals in pre-partition India and disease has been seen since independence in Pakistan . The disease was usually seen as a mild febrile infection with mild lesions in cattle and buffaloes with a seasonal pattern (usually wheat harvest time or change of weather) up to early 1970s. Currently the disease is endemic and wide spread in Pakistan and occurs through out the year. Although exact disease prevalence data is not available, periodic surveys carried out by various agencies indicate that FMD is most common infectious disease of cattle and buffaloes in the country. The disease causes less mortality in local animals except young stock in which significant deaths can be seen. As most of livestock farming was previously a subsistence activity and FMD was not associated with high mortality, the disease did not get the importance it deserved. With market-oriented and commercial dairy farming getting popularity and introduction of exotic cattle blood in the country (which is more susceptible), the disease has gained more notoriety and considered the most important infectious disease economically.

Participatory Disease Search studies carried out for the confirmation of Rinderpest eradication in 2002-2005 showed wide spread prevalence of FMD in the country. Prevalence rate in different districts of Punjab ranged from 10 to 54 %, in Sindh from 12.1 % to 33.8 %, in NWFP from 19.4 % to 37.3 %, in Balochistan from 2.5 % to 70.0 %, in Azad Jammu & Kashmir 6.6 % to 30.7 % and in Islamabad Capital Territory 25.5 %. Average prevalence rate of FMD reported as 25.1 % in Punjab , 24.6 % in Sindh, 18.2 % in NWFP, 17.6 % in Balochistan, 12.3 % in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and 10.2 % in Northern Areas.

FMD has two kinds of economic losses for Pakistan . Firstly, the disease results in morbidity (production losses) and mortality in animals and secondly, being a trans-boundary disease, it prohibits export of livestock and livestock products to a large number of countries resulting into potential losses of million of dollars, he added.

Dr. Afzal stated that although recent country-wide studies on the economic losses due to FMD have not been undertaken, one can interpolate some of the data collected in earlier studies. Estimated annual losses of Rs. 6.00 billion to the farmers due to FMD.

Estimated economic losses due to FMD have been reported as Rs. 566,450 per 1000 buffaloes. In another study, annual loss of 27.5 million rupees was calculated for just 12 villages of Chichawatni where study was undertaken. According to farmers' opinion, he spends on an average Rs. 1000 for adult and Rs. 500 for young for the treatment of FMD. Furthermore, he has to keep an extra labour to take care of the sick animals.

Dr. Afzal stated that eradication of FMD is policy of all developed countries and following this policy many countries have been declared as FMD free countries. The important FMD free countries are Australia , New Zealand , most of EU countries, Guyana , Japan , Korea , Chile , Cuba , Mexico , USA and Canada . Once the disease is eradicated, there is no need of vaccination but constant vigilance on the introduction of the disease in the disease free country is important and detailed contingency plan in case of outbreak is required.

Pakistan is faced with a very peculiar situation. FMD is endemic and no serious coordinated effort has been done to control this disease on the country-wide basis. The country borders with India , Afghanistan , Iran and China and informal movement of animals and animal products across these countries is a common feature other than with China . The livestock is mainly raised in smallholders production system and significant number of small ruminants are raised under nomadic and transhumant production system. Animal identification is practically missing, he added.

Progressive control of FMD is the most pragmatic approach for Pakistan . The critical components of such an approach are: a National FMD Control Initiative, continuous surveillance and monitoring of the FMD situation, Facility for FMD virus isolation and serotyping, availability of an effective FMD vaccine.

Although FMD has been the most prevalent viral infection in cattle and buffaloes in the country, no national initiative for its control has ever been undertaken. Thus any coordinated effort could not be undertaken. Initially, the disease was thought to be more of a nuisance as the livestock production was primarily subsistence and mortality was low. With increase in the value of livestock, changing production system emphasizing milk production and introduction of exotic blood in local cattle through crossbreeding (which makes these cattle more susceptible), the disease has gained more significance. Furthermore, the disease is major impediment to export of livestock and livestock products. Thus there is immediate need to start a National Initiative for FMD control in the country.

Continuous FMD surveillance through out the country is a prerequisite for any successful effort for disease control in the country. One needs to know where the disease is and how it is spreading in the area to develop proper control strategy based upon epidemiology of the disease. Disease reporting is at best weak in the country. This is primarily due to the fact that disease reporting does not result in a proper response and effective control efforts and thus reporting officers lose interest. This attitude also discourages farmers to get involved in the disease reporting. Furthermore, there is need to collect field samples from the infected animals to know which serotype is causing the disease and if there is need to change the virus strain in the vaccine. Current provincial system of disease reporting needs to be upgraded and fully involved in the FMD control effort.

Veterinary professional ground realities and country's geography practically dictate that Pakistan has to adopt FMD control policy with vaccination. Availability of a good quality vaccine thus is a pre-requisite for any effective control program, he concluded.