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Diseases surveillance system to improve livestock sector in Pakistan

By Our Correspondent
February 03, 2023

Islamabad : Despite its importance in terms of income, trade, employment, livelihood, and nutrition, and share in agriculture GDP, the livestock sector has not received the attention it deserves. In order to harness, livestock potential and development in Pakistan meaningful collaborations between organizations are required. Taking a step in this direction Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Pakistan and the Ministry of National Food Security & Research, the Government of Pakistan have initiated a Project under Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) to improve the animal disease surveillance system and establish a real-time

animal disease reporting system in Pakistan.

The announcement was made at a two-day inception workshop held at a local hotel in Islamabad on Wednesday. In his welcome address, Dr. M. Akram, Animal Husbandry Commissioner, Ministry of National Food Security and Research Government of Pakistan (MoNFSR) said that this collaboration with FAO under TCP is a welcoming step. It is hoped that the feasibility study will be completed in the next six to nine months to establish an animal disease surveillance system in Pakistan.

Livestock has huge potential but we only earn USD 350 million annually in exports. In addition, we cannot meet our local per capita requirements. A majority of the livestock farmers are living on a subsistence level and is unable to make livestock a commercial enterprise. Being the custodian of the livestock sector in Pakistan, this is a huge challenge for the MoNFSR. We need to enhance the productivity of our livestock as well as add value to it. Therefore, this collaboration with FAO is very encouraging. The inception workshop will be the first milestone, as it will allow deliberations from the experts, learn about the existing disease surveillance systems in various provinces, best practices, and lessons learned. The valuable suggestions from the participants will steer the feasibility study in the right direction.

Dr. Akram further added that along with the disease surveillance system, the regulatory framework is equally important. The Ministry has developed a draft National Animal Health Act in accordance with the World Health Organization guidelines. It will be presented to the workshop participants for review. Their recommendations will be incorporated in the final draft. Later, it will be moved towards legislation. Upon approval, it will be the first document related to animal health at the national level.

Dr. M. Afzal, a Livestock expert at FAO presented the salient features of the feasibility study and shared that animal disease surveillance is a systematic process of collection, analysis, interpretation, and communication of animal disease data for timely evidence-based decision-making, early warning, and taking measures for controlling the disease. An accurate and timely reporting of the diseases in livestock is essential for effective disease control and prioritizing the resources required for the prevention and control of these diseases. The project aims to improve animal disease surveillance in Pakistan. Under the project, we want to assess the current surveillance system through a tool, Surveillance Evaluation tool (SET) that is already in use by many countries in the world. The tool was developed by FAO five years ago. That will assess the quality and capacity of existing animal surveillance systems. Work already done for animal surveillance will also be reviewed. The ultimate objective is to draft an animal surveillance system that is suitable for Pakistan and develop an IT infrastructure for a robust animal disease surveillance system for real-time reporting. Ms. Florence Rolle, FAO Representative in Pakistan thanked all the participants for attending the workshop and said that FAO has a long history of collaboration with all the stakeholders present at the workshop. It is unfortunate that livestock does not get its share in what it contributes to the agriculture GDP of Pakistan. Looking into this issue is extremely important for FAO so that the potential livestock in Pakistan could be utilized fully.

The participants of the workshop are experts in the field and FAO has full confidence in their abilities to make this project a success. Concluding the inaugural session, chief guest Captain (r) M. Asif, Additional Secretary, Ministry of National Food Security and Research said that the purpose of the workshop is to know the current animal surveillance system presently working in different provinces, what are the capacities we have, and where we deficiencies. What is the coordination system we already have, where are the gaps in this coordination, and how we can fill these gaps? Livestock contributes a lot to the GDP but there are some policy gaps that need to be addressed. The most important thing at the policy level is that our thinking should be based on well informed, scientific knowledge-based system from where we could get timely and reliable information. Based on that information we can have our policy interventions to address these gaps and issues. If we do not have a surveillance system, we cannot have access to international markets or fetch the desired rates.

The challenge is that Pakistan has a huge and varied landscape and every landscape has its own livestock, species, and gene pool. Because of these different landscapes, habitats, specie, and pedigreed animals have different responses to different diseases. If we do not have an early warning system and actual information about the disease, how it affects the animals, and how we need to react to that, we will not be able to fight it. Once we have an efficient, reliable, and responsive surveillance system, only then we can compete in the international markets and have sustainable livestock for our farmers. The workshop brought together veterinary and livestock experts from

all over Pakistan.