KARACHI: Rising to the challenge of fast-spreading Lump Skin Disease (LSD) that has put Pakistan’s 100 million cattle population at risk, Sindh’s livestock researchers in a nick of time have managed to develop a vaccine that the authorities believe can help cattle owners and ranchers in all the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir in saving their animals from the bovine disease.

While the vaccine trial is in the final phase, the local production of drug for treatment of the viral disease, characterised by raised nodules, lesions or disseminated rash on skin of cattle, is expected to begin in March 2023.

Senior officials and sources privy to the recent development said the “major achievement” was made possible with Turkish support as the Sindh government had imported nearly four million LSD doses from Turkey with the goal to not only save the animals but also to start its local production. Support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations further accelerated the process.

The “research work and sample production” had met all formalities and local and international standards of vaccine production, they disclosed.

Vaccine for disease afflicting cattle developed; trial in final phase, local production to begin in March 2023

“The trial phases are in final stages and all have met the desired results,” Sindh Livestock Secretary Tameezuddin Khero told Dawn. “By December [2022], this process would be over and three months after that we would be able to start production of the doses in March [2023].

“The day the first shipment [of imported LSD vaccines] landed here, there was clear direction from the government, minister and everyone concerned that we have to do it ourselves. We met the deadline set for this challenge and now you will see production starting in March 2023.”

The Sindh government, he said, had raised a building in Karachi’s Korangi area for that purpose. It was being converted into a lab, he disclosed, claiming that the government would meet all requirements ranging from machinery to human resource and production facility.

The vector-borne, transboundary disease started emerging here late 2021 and till date it affected 52,000 animals across Sindh and killed 571 of them.

Animal experts say the disease, which spreads primarily through biting insects such as mosquitoes and ticks, was first discovered among livestock in Zambia, in 1929. In March 2022, the Sindh government announced import of the vaccine from Turkey with Rs500 million as the cost of the first shipment of two million doses.

Giving credit to the Sindh Institute of Animal Health that “took up the challenge, rolled out the research process at a staggering pace and achieved the desired result”, the authorities believe the local production would cut the vaccination cost drastically, from Rs250 per to as low as Rs25 per animal.

The researchers are confident about the efficacy of the locally developed LSD vaccines, citing history of ‘success rate’. “There are some nine trials for this LSD vaccine. This is actually a poxvirus which typically results in the formation of lesions, skin nodules or disseminated rash,” said Dr Nazeer Hussain Kalhoro, a PhD in virology and recombinant viral vaccines, who is currently serving as director general of the Sindh Institute of Animal Health.

With experiences of supervising research work that led to development and production of 29 different vaccines of animal diseases locally, Dr Kalhoro is sure that the domestically produced doses would have much more efficacy than being imported. Currently the institute is producing up to 350 million doses of 68 vaccines for animal diseases.

Half of the vaccines produced by the institute are consumed in Sindh and the rest is supplied to the three provinces as well as GB and AJK. Every year, a “moderate number” of Pakistani vaccines is exported to Afghanistan as well.

“We have so far imported 3.9 million doses of vaccines from Turkey. Some 3.2 have already been consumed through a massive vaccination campaign across the province. The rest of the stock is still being used by different district administrations through their respective task forces.”

Experts see the development of vaccine as a major achievement in view of the risk that the country’s livestock may continue to see for different reasons. They believe effective government policy in the “ignored sector” was the only way forward to meet future challenges for the livestock industry that according to the Pakistan Economic Survey is the largest sub-sector in agriculture, contributing 60.1 per cent to the agriculture value addition and 11.5pc to the GDP during the 2020-21.

“I am glad and definitely see it a big achievement if the Sindh government has developed the LSD vaccine,” said Prof Dr Aneela Durrani, a professor of medicine at Lahore’s University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences.

‘Unchecked import’

“But we need to understand why these diseases which are there in the world for decades but not in Pakistan start suddenly emerging in our country. There is a growing trend of import of cattle that mostly goes unchecked. Such imports with the least care and quarantine facility in the country bring so much risk.”

She also referred to undocumented trade of the livestock and ill-planned farming, without proper policy and guidelines from the authorities that compromises the health of cattle and multiplies the risk when they are moved with herds.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2022

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