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Ministry: PPR isn't a plague, but already existing disease

Nov. 16, 2013 7:02 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 17, 2013 11:47 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Commenting on news reports circulated in Palestinian media claiming an outbreak of peste des petits ruminants (PPR) in the Palestinian Territory, and the failure by the Ministry of Agriculture to provide farmers with the needed vaccines, ministry officials say the disease affecting livestock "isn't a plague" but rather an already existing disease.

The statements follow public outcry over the deaths of dozens of animals in the West Bank, which farmers have blamed on a lack of vaccines against a new plague affecting livestock. The ministry, however, says that the deaths are a result of peste des petits ruminants, also known as ovine rinderpest, a contagious disease affecting goats and sheep.

The Ministry of Agriculture has been endeavoring to provide vaccines from abroad through local Palestinian companies to avoid buying the vaccines for from Israel, the ministry’s undersecretary Abdullah Lahlouh told Ma'an Friday. He confirmed that a Palestinian company won a bid and would provide the vaccines in a few days. Minister of Agriculture Walid Assaf previously told Ma'an that Israel makes it difficult for the Palestinian Authority to import vaccines, instead trying to sell them to Palestinians for double the price.

The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, confirmed undersecretary Lahlouh, has been providing Palestinian farmers with vaccines against sheep smallpox, peste des petits ruminants, brucellosis and foot-and-mouth disease.

He added that the Ministry of Agriculture already bought 2000 shots of vaccine from Israel to be used temporarily against peste des petits ruminants until the company which won the bid brings the needed sum from abroad. The ministry estimates that 400,000 shots will be needed.

In the same regard, the Ministry of Agriculture's general director of veterinary medicine Imad Mukarkir told Ma'an that peste des petits ruminants "has been extant in Palestine since the 1950s." The disease, he added, does not break as a plague and older sheep are immune to the disease.

Mukarkir highlighted that in 2012 and 2013, about 650,000 heads of sheep were vaccinated against peste des petits ruminants. The majority of vaccines (450,000) were provided for free after the ministry received a grant from the Islamic Bank for Development.

Asked about the possibility of a quick outbreak of the disease, Mukarkir said the disease isn't quickly infectious and doesn't break as a plague. Only young sheep can be infected and the disease appears as diarrhea, but 95 percent of the infected young sheep recover after vaccination, or after they become older.

With regards to statistics, Mukarkir said the disease was diagnosed in 76 herds out of 24,000 herds across the West Bank. He added that 514 heads of sheep died out of 974 which were infected.

Mukarkir pointed out that "there could be a serious problem if the vaccines are not provided before the proliferation season begins in January 2014."

Vaccines, says Mukarkir, are available for urgent cases diagnosed in the field.

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