KARACHI: After nearly waiting for eight long years, Pakistan got a green signal from Saudi Arabia that it would restore the import of poultry products from Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia had suspended import of hatching eggs and day old chicks from Pakistan in 2005-2006's eruption of bird flu disease in Pakistan.
Pakistan's poultry sector would now get handsome export orders of eggs and chicks from Saudi Arab after a team of Saudi technical experts from Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) visited different poultry farms in the country to inspect standard of poultry facilities. The delegation also visited National Reference Laboratory for Poultry Diseases and National Veterinary Laboratory situated at National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC), Islamabad and expressed satisfaction over their standard.
Pakistan succeeded in taking concrete preventive and precautionary measures successfully to contain H5NI virus in the country since 2005.
The country is expected to fetch more than $1 billion if export is started to Saudi Arab, Gulf States and other neighbouring countries.
Standard of poultry facilities in Pakistan are of standard like in any European country.
Due to concerted efforts Pakistan declared freedom from bird flu disease with effect from September 22, 2008 and since then poultry industry had been growing at an annual rate of 13 percent.
Bird flu history and effects: Following reports of bird flu in Mirpur and Dhadiyal in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), in Sindh and other parts of the country the poultry sales declined by around 50 percent on domestic consumers and around 40 percent as commercial consumer front.
Around 60 percent clients of poultry were hotels and commercial food outlet while 25 percent were domestic consumers in the country. The investment in poultry trade was around Rs 90 billion. The poultry sector suffered a loss of over Rs 18 billion on account of outbreak of bird flu as it has also hit the retail sales of the chicken in the country.
The outbreak was potentially devastating for the poultry industry where chicken accounts for around 45 percent of total meat consumption by the 150 million population.
Punjab suffered most of the financial loss while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) also witnessed a loss of around Rs 80 million on account of breeder chicks, as it has been the major producer of parent birds.
The bird flu also downed the prices of chicken meat by Rs 60 a kilogramme during bird flu period and at the same time rates of per chick witnessed almost Rs 6 at wholesale.
The government authorities slaughtered more than 280,000 chickens at the affected farms in NWFP, Punjab and other parts of the country.
The first sample from Pakistan was sent for laboratory test to London on Feb 27, 2006.
More than 13,000 leading breeders catering the customers in four provinces with a total production of more than 5 million birds, including commercial broiler and layer (with a ratio 12:1) per annum respectively suffered financial loss.
The Punjab shares 70 percent of the production and NWFP is the principle parents' breeder in the country due to suitable climate.
A decline of some 4.5 million parents' birds was witnessed in KP after the bird flu and the breeders and farmers of Punjab and Sindh faced severe shortage of chickens.
The disease did not transmit from human to human and globally no one has ever been infected by eating chickens. Chicken cooked above 70 degree centigrade is safe for consumption.
Even no case of bird flu in humans was detected and sanitary and farm workers had tested negative.
In Karachi: The outbreak of bird flu H5N1 in Karachi was not threatening as the birds had been killed besides the site of the incident had also been sealed.
Following quarantine and other measures, the affected site was disinfected and the remaining birds were killed. In Gadap area some 5,500 birds had been killed and buried in order to avoid any danger to other farms.
Traditionally there is no harm to use birds as we cook them on high temperature and according to World Health Organisation (WHO) high temperature cooking is safe in such cases.
Presently, breeding and layer birds at the farms are totally vaccinated on regular basis. The poultry sales in Karachi declined by around 20 percent.
World history: Bird flu emerged in December 2003 when South Korea confirmed a highly contagious type of bird flu at a chicken farm near Seoul. The overall human death toll from the virus confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) currently stands at 92.
On January 18 the same year, international donors pledged $1.9 billion to combat the spread of bird flu at a conference in Beijing.
On January 29, H5N1 was confirmed in a sample taken from poultry in northern Cyprus and on February 8, the first African cases of the deadly H5N1 strain were detected in poultry in the northern Nigerian states of Kano, Kaduna and Plateau.
Italy said six wild swans found in Sicily and on the southern mainland had tested positive for H5N1. In Greece, three swans found in south of Thessaloniki tested positive for H5N1. These were the first known cases with the deadly strain of the disease in the European Union.
Some reasons behind: Due to a different social setup and migratory birds route, bird flu outbreak in Pakistan was not as severe as in other countries.
Following reports of bird flu in Mirpur and Dhadiyal in AJK, bordering Indian Kashmir, the government sent an official team of livestock and poultry division to affected areas to investigate if the birds had died of avian influenza.
There are 12 birds' migratory routes and Pakistan comes under route four while India and Iran are situated on different migratory route.
The outbreak of bird flu in India and Iran was due to the migratory birds, which travel from Europe through Russia, Siberian region, Turkey and Iran into India.
The pig-farming and turkey farming, is the main source of spreading this virus in poultry and in those societies where this practice is going on, the spread is more imminent, but presence of the virus in south Asia was not much possible.
Measures taken: Around 145,5571 samples were collected at random from different parts of Punjab and other parts of the country for laboratory tests, but not a single clue of H5N1 had been found.
The consumers' confidence in commercial poultry meat declines with the reports the virus was found in India and Iran.
After outbreak of virus reports in India, ministry of health geared up the monitoring system and focusing more on preventive measures.
Pakistan has the capacity to diagnose bird virus and a number of laboratories in different parts of the country were already active.
Outcome of the flu reports: Confirmation from Britain of presence of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu hit sales of chicken, pushing the prices of chicken at retail level down by Rs 40 a kilogramme and chick at wholesale level by Rs 6 a kilogramme.
The virus was detected in chickens at two farms in KP, which had been sealed off.
He said more people had completely stopped buying chicken due to heightened fears about bird flu.
Except the infection of H5N1 in two farms in KP, no case of bird flu was reported anywhere in the country.
Added factor's facing loss: Devastating earthquake of October 8, 2005 caused damaged to about $540 million covering crops, livestock and irrigation infrastructure of agriculture sector in KP.
Major damage struck to the livestock and livestock housing, crops and stores and irrigation in the affected areas of KP and AJK.
According to official sources earthquake caused widespread damage to life, buildings, roads and public utilities such as electricity and telecommunications.
Many of the sheep and goat were on their way back from Alpine pastures when the earthquake struck.
Buffaloes, cattle and poultry, which are usually kept in covered pens next to the houses, suffered even more severe losses as structures collapsed on top of them.
The western economic factors created fear in common people against poultry meat otherwise H5N1 virus is not as lethal as it is thought to be.
The writer is a research scholar and regular contributor of stories to Daily Times
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