Bird flu threat looms large over Pakistan
* No concrete precautionary measures yet despite WHO warnings
By Asad Farooq
KARACHI: Inappropriate policies, lapses in the 18th Amendment and prolonged delay in departmental procedures have pushed the country towards the deadliest viral disease of ‘bird flu’ at a time when the country is already facing severe problems due to dengue virus.
A large number of birds migrate from Europe to the South Asian countries, including Pakistan during the winter season, which according to the experts, are the core source of viral diseases, particularly the bird flu. So far tens of thousands of migratory birds along with the significant alarms of bird flu have arrived in the country.
Contrary to past years, there is no surveillance or control programme at present in the country, as in the pretext of 18th Amendment, the National Programme for the Control and Prevention of Avian & Pandemic Influenza under which bird flu had been combated and later on it also performed the surveillance services, was devolved in the mid of the outgoing year in the provinces.
Since then practically the programme remained suspended due to technical and financial incapability of the provinces.
It is pertinent to mention here that bird flu had erupted in two of the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, India and Iran, few months ago. Responding to eruption of the disease in the countries, World Health Organisation (WHO) had issued warning to several countries, including Pakistan, for immediate precautionary measures, but the country still failed even to restore its bird flu programme.
Daily Times has learnt that the programme was completely stopped across the country after suspension of funds in this regard, except in Sindh province.
Poultry Production and Research Institute Research officer Dr Rashid Farooq had confirmed that though the programme had been suspended, the programme team in Sindh on the direction of former Sindh Surveillance officer Dr Aslam Jelali, due to his personal interest, was trying its level best to continue with the bird flu surveillance service.
To a question, he said that they had been facing acute problems due to non-provision of running expenses, however, they were trying their level best in order to cope with the situation with the help of bird flu surveillance.
When contacted, Jalali, who was a founding president of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for the animals’ rights in Pakistan, said that they were still collecting samples from both wild and migratory birds, as well as commercial poultry flocks.
He told Daily Times that they purchased necessary accessories, when learnt that the programme was being devolved, so as to continue with the surveillance, which was essential to safeguard the lives of people, as well as poultry flocks.
Replying to a question, he affirmed that the country was facing an acute threat of bird flu eruption, however, he added that no warning was yet issued from the reference lab Islamabad, where samples were sent to ascertain if the virus was found in birds. He further said that if other provinces were not taking measures it meant they did not take WHO’s warning seriously. He said that several provinces of the country have boarders with affected countries, India and Iran, so taking immediate measures was the need of the hour, he added.
Daily Times has also learnt that Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) was willing to launch a programme in Pakistan for zoonotic diseases (daises that transform from animal to humans that include bird flu), under which bird flu surveillance programme would be started, but ironically no funds had yet been issued.
Sources at the Sindh government told Daily Times that in response to the livestock department’s letters to the relevant authorities to continue the programme, a summery was formed regarding the continuity of the programme with an amount of Rs 5 million in the province. Sources further informed that the summery had been waiting for approval at the Chief Minister’s office for around last six months, but so far no measure had been taken.
It is pertinent to mention here that the ongoing uncertain situation has dragged the country to bear severe financial losses. The Office International des Épizooties (OIE), considered as the World Organisation for Animal Health, declares Pakistan as bird flu-free country in the reports issued by the National Reference Laboratory for Poultry Diseases (NRLPD) Islamabad.
The country would be deprived of the bird flu certificate due to suspension of the procedure; resultantly Pakistan could not export various items of livestock including white meat and birds, parrots and pigeons.