Waiting to unfold?

With the outbreak of the lumpy skin disease (LSD) ahead of Eid ul Azha are we looking at a potential disaster?

Waiting to unfold?


oughing incessantly, a man tells another how he had contracted Covid amid the new wave but had still managed to make it to the mandi to satiate his passion for cattle markets. He says this smack in the middle of Sohrab Goth cattle market spread across vast swathes of land in Karachi.

Barely months into the outbreak of the lumpy skin disease (LSD) and amid another Covid wave that has seen a spike lately, there have hardly been sufficient steps taken to prevent a potential disaster around Eid ul Azha.

With government-led LSD inoculation far from materialising anytime soon, the 42 million buffaloes and almost 51 million cattle of Pakistan, according to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, are subject to the farmer’s decision to jab them with imported vaccines or risk infection.

The livestock sector contributes around 11 percent to the GDP. This has not forced the federal government to treat the outbreak of the disease as the kind of emergency some experts consider it to be.

Dr Zameer Ahmed, who has a PhD in virology describes the situation as a “crucible for a national crisis”.

“Even if Sindh procured vaccine for its livestock and jabbed them timely, the anti-bodies will wear down and contact with other cattle travelling to Sindh from other parts, where the disease is now thriving, will allow even the vaccinated cattle to be infected,” the Karachi-based vet tells The News on Sunday.

“When the federal government is not ready or interested in a campaign, nothing can happen,” Ahmed says. “The only solution is a national-level vaccination drive. The famers cannot afford importing vaccines on their own.”

The virologist says when diseased animals are slaughtered, their blood will carry the vector-borne virus. “Our flora and fauna will be infected and since this is a vector-borne virus, you’ll see many vectors spreading it liberally post-Eid,” says Ahmed.

Should there be another breakout of the virus, currently spreading in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab and no nationwide vaccination campaign, about 60 million families associated with the sector will risk substantial losses although the Sindh government claims to have curbed it in the province by importing necessary vaccines.

Emergency stalls have been put up by Sindh Rangers at the Karachi cattle market to sift through the cows and buffaloes that people bring in from all parts of Pakistan. But how effective are these? Ahmed says it is almost impossible for these stalls to stop a virus. “How are they going to stop a virus that spread through multiple vectors? It can dupe a naked eye screening.”

Asif Ali Shah, a spokesperson for the cattle market setup in Karachi’s Sohrab Goth tells The News on Sunday that they have a marshalling area in the market where a team of vets is deployed. He says that vets inspect each truck carrying animals and if as much as a single animal on a truck is suspected of infection with the disease, it is returned immediately. “We make sure that not a single animal from that truck comes out,” he says.

The spokesperson says that so far, they have returned 27 trucks carrying sacrificial animals. The animal market administration has hired a team of vets specifically for this purpose.

This begs the question that even if at Sohrab Goth market the virus is effectively and efficiently controlled, what of the many street cattle markets setup across Karachi?

Murtaza Wahab, the Karachi administrator, who is in charge of the municipal corporation of the port city in the absence of an elected local government didn’t respond to a TNS request for comment.

“There’s a sizable cattle market in Malir as well,” Ahmed says. He says that unless there’s an emergency imposed with regards to it, we are staring a calamity about to his the livestock.

Meanwhile, the Sindh government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Punjab Livestock Department, according to which no unvaccinated animal from the Punjab will make its way to Sindh.

As for the animals from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, Sindh Minister for Livestock and Fisheries Abdul Bari Pitafi says that they have established check posts at the provincial borders. Vets deployed on these borders are on the lookout for animals with lumpy skin disease and do not let any vehicle carrying infected animals enter Sindh.

He says that the teams of Livestock Department have also been deployed at various animal markets of the city. The teams are monitoring animals brought from the other provinces.

The provincial minister says that only vaccinated animals were being allowed to enter Sindh. “We have already controlled the lumpy skin disease in Sindh.”

The writer is a journalist covering human rights and social issues. He can be reached on Twitter at @mhunainameen

Waiting to unfold?