12 December 2002, Rome/Kabul - A national livestock vaccination campaign targeting more than 5 million farm animals is going on in Afghanistan. The campaign will be finished by the end of this year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO is also supporting the fight against rabies in major Afghan cities to protect people from this fatal disease.

Around 10 million doses of animal vaccines have been distributed to almost 30 provinces. Cattle, sheep, goats and chickens are being vaccinated against important endemic animal diseases such as peste des petits ruminants (PPR), enterotoxaemia, anthrax, sheep pox, Newcastle disease and gumboro.

FAO works closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry as well as non-governmental organizations.

In the past, livestock production has played a key role in the Afghan household economy and has been responsible for up to 40 percent of national income. However, the past four years of drought have led to dramatic losses of livestock due to the lack of feed and water.

For the Kuchi nomads and farmers, the provision of vaccines and animal drugs is a top priority to prevent the loss of any more breeding animals from livestock diseases.

"Many farmers and nomads are poor and cannot afford to pay the full price for the vaccines," said Aggrey Majok, FAO Animal Health Adviser. "This is the reason why FAO is providing vaccines at a lower cost. Farmers have to pay about 20 percent of the full price."

"We are running the campaign through district-based private clinics, the Veterinary Field Units (VFUs)," Majok said. "They are working from Kabul, Mazar-I-Sharif, Jalalabad, Herat and Kandahar."

Special watch on trade routes

"One of our main objectives is to avoid the spread of any disease through herds coming from neighbouring countries such as Pakistan," Majok said.

"Afghan surveillance teams visit major animal markets along trade routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They aim to detect sick animals early enough in order to prevent the spread of diseases such as rinderpest and PPR. Rinderpest was eradicated in Afghanistan in 1997 and through surveillance we hope to keep it out of the country," he added.

FAO is also repairing ten provincial veterinary clinics and refurbishing nine diagnostic laboratories. The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (MAAH) will receive one vehicle, photocopiers, computers, printers and office furniture.

Ten trainees of the ministry will receive computer training and technical courses are given to 16 laboratory technicians and 18 disease investigation officers.

Rabies control in main cities

FAO is also taking part in a rabies control programme in major Afghan cities. Rabies is a fatal disease in humans and warm-blooded animals. It is endemic in Afghanistan and has been for many years. Dogs transmit the disease through biting.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports approximately 400 people bitten by rabies-suspicious animals throughout the country every month. Several deaths from rabies in humans have been reported in the past.

Despite ongoing vaccination of domestic dogs, there is still a large number of stray dogs that need to be controlled. The campaign aims to vaccinate more than 150 000 dogs.

"We are dealing with a typical post-emergency phenomenon," Majok said.

"In a conflict situation, people often leave their dogs behind. In many cases these dogs become stray dogs. They turn out to become dangerous and people often get bitten. For public health it is extremely important that we control this plague. In Kabul we have already finished rabies vaccination. In Mazar-I-Sharif, Kandahar and Jalalabad we expect to finish vaccinating by mid-December."

FAO is closely working together with WHO, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and the Ministry of Public Health.

The projects are funded by Italy, the Netherlands and the UnitedKingdom.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer
(+39) 06 5705 3105