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Controlling foot-and-mouth disease in South Asia


FAO and the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) of the Ministry of Agriculture of India will open a three-day conference on 13 February to gauge how scientific progress on foot-and-mouth disease is changing the potential for control of the disease across large swaths of South Asia, where it remains endemic and has devastating implications for poor families dependent on livestock for food and daily income. Experts will review the state of the art of FMD sciences that are relevant to the control of the disease, including the latest vaccine technologies, and how the growing scientific output from Eurasia has the potential to create new options and greater levels of control if public policy makes good use of the best science.

Different serotypes and variants of foot-and-mouth disease continue to circulate within three viral “pools” in East Asia, South Asia and West Eurasia, from where they can jump to affect free countries. Four further “pools” exist in Africa, and parts of South America. These seven pools make up the reservoir of infection from where it can spread to countries free from foot-and-mouth disease, where the implications of having an outbreak are known and feared: in the United Kingdom in 2001, an outbreak resulted in the culling of over six million sheep and cattle and more than $12 billion in economic losses.

More than 250 participants, including representatives from private sector companies and foundations involved in vaccine development, will share experiences and consider how scientific progress will change the way control policies are formulated and how to measure their success. How to achieve greater impact with currently limited resources will also be a main challenge to be discussed.

FAO’s Progressive Control Pathway for FMD

In 2008, the FAO, working with the EuFMD Commission, developed the “Progressive Control Pathway for FMD” (PCP-FMD) to assist countries in developing sustainable national strategies based on a realistic assessment of the disease’s impact and of the control options available. The Pathway supports countries in attaining higher levels of disease control in the vulnerable sectors and at national level by guiding them through achievable steps in the progression toward increased and sustainable disease control, keeping in mind the national needs and wider regional efforts for progressive FMD control.

Unlike the UK outbreak in 2001, which was swiftly controlled to preserve economic and trade interests, the constant, eroding devastation of foot-and-mouth disease in countries where the disease is endemic – where people are also most vulnerable – goes largely ignored.

Devastation in the most vulnerable countries

In the first years of their lives, half of the cattle, sheep and goats in large parts of Eurasia will contract foot-and-mouth disease. Most of them will die. Adult animals might contract the disease several times over their lifetime, building some immunity but still repeatedly becoming ill, unproductive and never regaining their genetic potential, becoming a drain on resources for their owners.
In Pakistan, for example, 30 to 40 percent of people derive their incomes from livestock. Thirty-four percent of these people are considered poor. Many of the poorest households own just a few animals, and the milk that comes from these animals provides 51 percent of their income.

When foot-and-mouth disease strikes, young animals die and females stop producing milk for 60 days before generally recovering. Nevertheless, milk production never attains its previous levels. With milk prices ranging between 50 to 70 cents per litre, this means an economic loss for the poorest of Pakistani society of more than 100 dollars each month for three months.

Foot-and-mouth disease means ruin

Treatments for the animals are costly. And since they produce uneconomic amounts of milk but farmers have to continue to feed them, families often sell their last assets when FMD sickens their animals. They lose a source of milk for themselves and for income for food, so it is literally a matter of no longer being able to feed families. In countries with large rural populations and huge livestock numbers, the impact is enormous; annual losses in India were estimated in 2011 at more than $US 3.6 billion, or $3 for every man, woman and child.

These impacts are almost certainly seen in all endemic regions where animals are kept for dairy production and are a principle driver for disease control. However, since FMD also affects all cattle, buffalo, small ruminants and pigs, the global impacts of this common disease have grave implications for a very wide range of stakeholders, both those that have the disease in their countries and those that are free from foot-and-mouth disease.