The UN agency is currently working to restore urgently needed veterinary services in the country to protect farm animals and humans from epidemic diseases.
Iraq has a herd of approximately 2.5 million cattle and 17 million sheep and goats. Livestock production is extensive and herds migrate throughout Iraq and neighbouring countries.
Meat, milk and eggs are the most important source of protein for the population. Any increase in livestock diseases would have a negative effect on the supply of protein-rich food such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat and eggs and would have a severe impact on food security.
But with appropriate animal disease control and surveillance, Iraq could produce much of its animal products and thus reduce the current high level of imports of meat, animal fats, eggs and dairy products.
Veterinary services, including hospitals and district clinics, diagnostic facilities and cold storage and distribution systems have deteriorated over the past years.
The country is facing a serious deficit in disease surveillance and emergency preparedness, both crucial elements in fighting endemic and exotic animal diseases, FAO said.
Transboundary animal diseases such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD), screwworm and peste des petits ruminants (PPR) are especially threatening in Iraq and in the region.
Many other preventable diseases are of concern, including hemorrhagic septicaemia, sheep and goat pox and many production limiting diseases, such as mastitis. Brucellosis, Congo-Crimean haemorrhagic fever and anthrax are also threats to humans and should be controlled by a modern veterinary service.
"Iraqi veterinarians consider Brucellosis as the most threatening disease transmitted from animals to humans," said David Ward, FAO Senior Animal Health expert. "Brucellosis is a bacterial disease passed to humans from milk, causing recurring fever, joint pain and severe headaches. It is estimated that over 1.5 million sheep are infected with the disease in the country."
$10 million project
Under a $10 million project, FAO is closely working with veterinary staff to upgrade the animal health infrastructure and to protect farm animals from epidemic and endemic diseases and reduce public health risks.
Key elements of the project are:
- training of veterinary staff to improve its technical and management skills in disease control and surveillance;
- improving the performance of veterinary field services in the country through procurement of clinical supplies and equipment;
- restoring diagnostic and quality control laboratories;
- building and equipping nine veterinary centres and seven cold storage facilities;
- assisting senior veterinary staff in devising disease control and public health strategies.
The project will benefit more than 4.5 million people. Up to 500 veterinary service and laboratory staff in 15 provincial veterinary hospitals, 220 district clinics and 45 veterinary centres will receive professional training.
The project will also create opportunities for the private veterinary sector. Essential government services will continue, but the role of the private sector is expected to increase.
The FAO project is funded by the UN Development Group Iraq Trust Fund.
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