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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Uphill struggle against foot-and-mouth disease

Uphill struggle against foot-and-mouth disease


"Foot-and-mouth disease happens every year in Cambodia, but every year the disease kills only three or four cows," said Kao Phal, director of Animal Health and Production at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). "But this year, it is more serious than previous years."

Cambodia is in the throes of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. So far this

year 28 cows and one buffalo have died in Banteay Meanchey province, and another

600 cows and buffaloes, and between 20 and 30 pigs, are infected.

Western countries go to extreme lengths to stay free of foot-and-mouth. In 2001,

an outbreak in Britain led to the forced culling of nearly four million sheep and


But foot-and-mouth disease is endemic in Southeast Asia, and Cambodia, which has

porous land borders with three neighboring countries, faces numerous difficulties

in combating it.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a contagious viral disease, which occurs especially in

cattle, buffalo, pigs and goats. The disease, which does not pose a serious threat

to humans, can spread through the air, from person to person, person to animal, and

animal to animal. According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), foot-and-mouth

disease can stay in a contaminated environment for up to one month; affected animals

spread it through breath, saliva, feces, urine, milk and semen.

The symptoms of foot-and-mouth are fever, weight loss, shivering, a reduction in

milk production, lip smacking, teeth grinding, drooling, lameness, and stamping or

kicking feet because of the pain of blisters on mouth and feet. After 24 hours the

blisters may rupture, leaving painful eroded wounds.

Animals may recover after a week or two, but fatal complications can occur, mainly

in younger animals, and animals may suffer hoof deformation, permanent weight loss

or loss of heat control causing panting, and permanent reduction of milk production

after udder infection.

"Foot-and-mouth disease happens every year in Cambodia, and every year the disease

kills only three or four cows," said Kao Phal, director of Animal Health and

Production at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). "But

this year, it is more serious than previous years."

Phal said the government is working with local veterinarians, district and commune

councils both to treat and to prevent the disease.

"We treat cows and buffalos that are infected with foot-and-mouth disease by

removing worms from wounds, washing the wounds with alum-water, then bandaging the

wounds with bitter leaves or injecting medicine," Phal said.

Education to

prevent disease

"We prevent the disease by educating people to keep their stables clean, to

separate sick cows or buffalos from others, not to allow sick cows into the herd.

We have written information to provide people to learn how to prevent as well as

how to cure their cattle."

Lay Oak, a 70-year-old farmer who lives in Veal Thom village, Lvea Aem district,

Kandal, is one of the people educated about how to prevent foot-and-mouth.

"My cows have never been infected with foot-and-mouth disease because I know

how to prevent it," he said. "I always keep my cows' stable clean - it's

as clean as a bedroom for people. Every morning, I get up at dawn and take all the

cow manure away.

"And I make sure that wherever I take my cows to graze is also clean. My neighbors

take me as example, so their cows have never been infected with the disease either."

The MAFF's Phal said there is a vaccination to prevent foot-and-mouth available,

but the government does not force farmers to have their animals vaccinated because

of the expense.

"We don't inject vaccine to prevent the disease because we cannot afford it,"

Phal said. "Cambodia has more than 3,600,000 cows and buffalos. And the vaccine

is too expensive - $2 per time to inject one cow. To inject vaccine to prevent the

disease, we have to inject twice a year.

"We're making preparations to vaccinate 25,000 cows early next year in a step

called 'ring vaccination' - that means we do not inject all the cattle throughout

Cambodia, we inject only the cattle in a ring around an area where there has been

a foot-and-mouth outbreak."

The vaccination itself is not expensive - maybe 1,500 riel per cow. The problem is

that the vaccination needs to be kept cold, and administration needs to be properly

handled, which all adds to the cost. The vaccination only lasts six months, so it

needs to be administered twice a year.

Dr Sen Sovann, Heifer Project International's Cambodia representative and agricultural

adviser said many countries' governments provide vaccination as a public interest.

"But the Cambodian government has no money to do this; you're talking millions

of dollars," he said.

Not only are farmers not vaccinating their animals against the disease, but there

is no control over animal movement to ensure that diseased animals aren't infecting


Phal said Cambodia does not import livestock from other countries, but Sovann said

they are being smuggled into Cambodia from neighboring countries, and with the smuggled

livestock comes foot-and-mouth.

"From Vietnam, it's coming into Cambodia through pigs; from Thailand it's through

cattle," Phal said. "We just don't know how smuggling occurs. Because they

are doing trade they move animals to where the value is higher. The main machine

to drive the movement is the market."

But Phal said he did not blame Vietnam and Thailand for Cambodia's problems, because

the disease is endemic in the whole region.

The OIE's Sovann believes the disease could be erased from Cambodia if the government

would follow the OIE guidelines for the disease, which include requiring international

veterinary certificate for any movement of animals from infected countries, and quarantining

infected animals.

Quarantine system necessary

"There's no control over animals coming into Cambodia; there needs to be a quarantine

system in place for ten days where animals are vaccinated for various diseases before

entering the country," Sovann said.

He said that just because there have been more reported cases of foot-and-mouth this

year does not mean the disease has become worse, but that more farmers have been

educated about the disease by village animal workers and NGOs and know they should

report cases.

"Through work with NGOs the farmers get a better understanding about disease,"

he said. "Our information system is better now. When you see the absence of

disease you can't say it is good. No report doesn't mean the disease is not present.

"If we implemented the OIE plan with sub-regional measures the disease would

be eradicated," Sovann said. He said the government had other priorities which

they see as more important, but he believes Cambodia's economy would be better if

the disease was gone.

"To invest in livestock disease control is long-lasting. In Singapore and Malaysia

they need the meat, Cambodia has huge potential to produce the animals for this,"

Sovann said.

Mom Chan Sothea has been a veterinarian since 2000, he also volunteers for Heifer


"The best way to control the disease is to use antibiotics on the leg and on

the mouth. We keep them in a dry place because in a wet place there are lots of bacteria

that can enter an animal's body," Sothea said.

He said the disease is painful for the animal, and may cause it to die. And it had

a serious economic impact on farmers.

"When the disease infects an animal the farmer must spend a lot of money to

treat the animal," he said. "If the farmer has five cows and one cow gets

the disease they have to keep the one cow away from the others because the disease

can spread so fast," Sothea said.

Sovann said the disease is also spread by farmers who try to get rid of animals already

infected, by selling them cheaply outside the area.

"When the disease occurs people say 'Sell the cow cheap.' Then it moves sick

animals to other places, which spreads the disease. Farmers may sell for 30 percent

of original value," Sovann said.



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