Bird flu may be rearing its ugly head again
ISLAMABAD: Eight peacocks have died in Lahore mysteriously. While the cause is still being investigated, fears that it could be some strain of bird flu are being suppressed.
The fears in the agricultural sector and poultry are confirmed from the recurrences in past few months of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) in in India (where thousands of birds have been culled), Bangladesh (that culled 50, 000 chickens), China (where a death in January from the deadly H5N1 has been confirmed) to across Iran (in September 2011) and as far down in Indonesia and Australia. Experts with the agriculture and poultry sectors fear that Pakistan’s Rs300 billion poultry industry faced certain threat of the pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) that knew no borders and could spread.
What makes Pakistan vulnerable to the deadly virus is the absence of any surveillance system to detectmonitor and control the virus that has mutated into more than 260 different forms from spreading in farm chickens.
Following H5N1 outbreak in 2005, the avian influenza surveillance launched at the Animal Sciences Institute, NARC at the National Reference Lab for Avian Influenza (NRLPD) was another casualty of devolution. The surveillance work at NRLPD helped control further spread of avian influenza and eventually eliminated it by July 2008. However, the early warning programme was terminated in June 2011 under the 18th Amendment.
Documents available with Dawn show that the government had allocated over Rs1.18 billion for control and prevention of bird flu.
Experts associated with the agriculture sector and poultry industry believed that all the efforts could go to waste if the programme was not activated and if any new case of H5N1 occurred.
They also believed that recurrences/outbreaks in neighbouring countries in this region demand that surveillance programme of avian influenza should be reinitiated on priority.
They feared that highly contagious H5N1 transmissible from humans to birds, and from birds to humans had already been detected in India, China (where two deaths have been associated to bird flu), Indonesia as well as Iran (in September 2011).
Project Director National Programme for the Control and Prevention of Avian Influenza Dr Mohammad Akram Muneer who is a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology from the US asserted, “The early warning system is imperative if Pakistan has to save the giant Rs300 billion poultry industry.”
Pakistans poultry products exports – chicken, day old chicks suffered a set back when the bird flu spread and even Afghanistan completely stopped importing chicken from Pakistan.
Principal Scientific Officer National Veterinary Laboratory Islamabad, Dr Khurshed Ahmad also believed that since diseases in farm animals were major concern of food security an early warning system was much needed.
He supported his argument by explaining how the H9 form of avian influenza (non-transmissible from birds to humans) had been permanent resident in Pakistan since 1995-96. The threat from H7 form (also non-transmissible to humans) that had also threatened farm chickens in Pakistan could also not be ruled out.
Both affect the reproduction in the industry that raised more than 40 billion farm birds a year. Dawn
Documents available with highlight the concern over halting the Avian Influenza H5N1 monitoring system in poultry at national level and decrease in AI surveillance activities after closure of the NPCPAI in June 2011.
“The anticipated threat to local poultry industry and public health because of H5N1 recurrences requires the revival of National Programme for Control and Prevention of Avian Influenza at Ministry of Food Security and Research Division.
This will help avoid any unnecessary situation for poultry and public health in Pakistan,” said a document addressed to the Planning Commission that had halted the programme.
Documents also show concerns from provinces of their incapacity to continue the programme, urging the Centre to restart the early warning system.
Planning Commission expressed its helplessness over restarting the programme that among other projects was now a provincial concern.
“The Federal government has been providing funding and coordinating in this regard. Incapacity of provinces to maintain such projects is a concern that should have been taken up before devolution,” said Advisor for Health Planning Commission Talib Lashari who believed that provinces had the capacity — infrastructure and trained manpower– and had been on ground. However, there was always room for improvement and capacity should be further improved, the official said.