x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The high grass-roots cost of healthy food

Government authority vaccinates against four diseases, but farmers want more.

ABU DHABI // Keeping his sheep healthy is a constant struggle for the Liwa farmer Abdullah Al Amimi.

His herd of 250 needs much care and constant monitoring to stop diseases developing.

For three years, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) has been providing free vaccines for his flock.

That helps, said Mr Al Amimi, but it is not the whole solution.

"The authority is doing its bit by giving my sheep shots three times a year but it's not a weekly programme," he said. "You can't just say I'll give them that many shots and that's it. There are other problems that cannot be controlled, like diarrhoea and ticks."

Mr Al Amimi buys shampoos and sprays from veterinary pharmacies in Abu Dhabi, Liwa and Madinat Zayed, at a cost of between Dh2,000 and Dh3,000 a year.

It is worth it, as a healthy sheep sells for about Dh600, but it is still a substantial expense and one that Mr Al Amimi and others are keen for the ADFCA to help out more.

Since September, the authority has administered close to 3 million immunisation shots.

It vaccinates against foot-and-mouth disease, which causes fever and blisters in cows, sheep and goats; contagious caprine pleuropneumonia (CCP), which affects the lungs of sheep and goats and can cause sudden death in goats; the viral disease ovine rinderpest, which causes diarrhoea, fever and swelling of the mucous membranes; and sheep and goat pox, which leads to blisters on the mucous membranes.

All of the diseases are lethal.

In the UAE, salmonella is by far the worst, said Dr Naimuddin Syed of the National Veterinary Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

"Worldwide, pleuropneumonia is the worst disease and it is also the most infectious," Dr Syed said.

The ADFCA says it is doing what it can. "[We] are putting all our efforts in supporting livestock, preventing and monitoring diseases and controlling proliferation," said Saeed Jasem Mohamed, its acting communications director.

Last winter, it gave 5 million vaccinations against the four diseases. This year it is aiming for more.

So far this winter, it has twice offered spraying for ticks at veterinary clinics across Abu Dhabi. It will do so twice more before summer.

The Ministry of Environment and Water also helps out with preventive measures against Clostridium difficile and enterotoxaemia, also known as pulpy kidney disease, and salmonella and pasteurella.

But for other diseases, ministry vets will only visit when animals become sick, leaving farmers to turn to private clinics for prevention.

The National Veterinary Hospital sells 25 doses of salmonella and pasteurella vaccine for Dh72. Vaccinating against all diseases cover-ed by the ministry costs Dh120 a head.

The hospital receives on average four sheep a month, and its vets visit an average of two farms.

"Farmers might come to us because sometimes animals don't respond to medicine given by the ministry," said Dr Syed. "So they might think it's a problem with the doctor."

That was the case for Rashid Burshaid, a farmer in Khor Fakkan who vaccinates his 50 goats twice a year, depending on their health.

"Sometimes, I get the vaccines from the ministry but not that often because they don't have good qualified doctors," he said. "I went twice this year and the results were poor."

The ministry visited his farm last week after one of his goats fell ill. So far the animal has not recovered, so he went to a private pharmacy.

"If I don't have enough money, then I'll go back to the ministry because it's free," Mr Burshaid said.

Mr Al Amimi said he would keep using the ADFCA services, "even if they're very slow".