"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.
"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
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
"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,"
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.