KARACHI, Jan 29: Pakistan reported more than 1,000 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) last year, the largest number of FMD epidemics ever recorded in the world, said a speaker at an international conference on microbiology at Karachi University.

More than 100 researchers are participating in the three-day event titled ‘Vector borne viral disease surveillance and control’, organised by Pakistan Society for Microbiology that remained under way on Tuesday.

“There were 1,024 reported FMD outbreaks; of them over 500 were reported in Karachi alone at commercial dairy farms. No single country has ever recorded that big number of FMD outbreaks in one year,” said Dr Mohammad Afzal, a senior livestock expert currently coordinating a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) project in Pakistan. According to Dr Afzal, Pakistan was earlier reporting only 10 to 12 outbreaks of the disease in a year.

Elaborating on the reasons for the outbreaks, Dr Afzal said it was the first time that a comprehensive disease surveillance was done in the country and also because there was no effective control on outbreaks.

“Surveillance has been done under the three-year FAO project funded by the US department of agriculture. It has completed its first year during which more than 800 vets were trained and seven veterinary laboratories (located in Landhi’s Cattle Colony, Tandojam, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar and Gilgit) have been upgraded and now facilities for immediate testing and serotyping of FMD are available there,” he said while briefing the audience about the $7.5m FAO project, ‘Support to increase sustainable livestock production: development of technical framework for the progressive control of foot-and-mouth disease in Pakistan’.

The most prevalent and devastating livestock disease in the country, FMD, he said, caused huge financial losses to the nation every year. “The disease infected about at least 25pc of the 65 million population of big animals in the country every year and the major reason why a big population is so vulnerable to the disease has to do with the unavailability of an effective vaccine,” Dr Afzal said.

The FMD virus, he pointed out, mutated every three to four year and it was necessary that a vaccine was developed after determining the specific serotype accordingly.

“Right now, we are using a new vaccine that has been developed in Russia according to our needs. More than 100,000 animals in Pakistan has been administered that vaccine and none of them has so far reported FMD. The animals would be observed for two years,” he said.

The experience, he said, had shown that FMD could be controlled even in Pakistan’s conditions if animals were regularly administered with an effective vaccine.

“So far, we have been providing the vaccine free of cost but there is a need for a major investment in vaccine production in the country considering the great demand for it now,” he said.

Earlier in the programme, speakers recommended establishment of strong linkages between research and policy in the country and inter-sectoral collaboration in design and management of research.

They also suggested the use of biotechnology and advancement in microbiology to tackle threats of new infectious diseases.

Dr Rafiq Usmani (Pakistan Agriculture Research Council — Islamabad), Dr Qaiser Mahmood Khan (National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering — Faisalabad), Dr Naheed Mojgani (Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute — Iran), Dr Zahid Azam (Dow University of Health Sciences), Prof Dr Mughisuddin Ahmed (King Abdul Aziz Hospital — Saudi Arabia) were among the speakers.