Small holdings naturally bring more wealth to farmers and food security for the masses. At the same time, it can pose threats to the human race as well. The recent incidence of Congo fever (Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever) in Gujarat in January points a finger to the growing animal stock in urban areas. A young house surgeon was the first, followed by the physician and two nurses taking the death toll to four. Two more cases are reported in February too. And this is the first reported incidence of the disease in India. The source is yet to be confirmed. However, it is a disease transmitted to man from animals via ticks and is near fatal with 30% mortality.
The backyard cattle, buffalo, poultry and pig rearing are on the rise not only in the rural areas but also in the thickly populated urban areas. The incidences of animal borne diseases have aroused interest and concern among the international researchers. The recent meet of researchers in New Delhi have gone deep into the links between livestock rearing and public health and expressed fears over how the new animal-borne diseases can affect different species, including man and how it can be transmitted to distant places even. HIV, SARS and Bird flu and several other new diseases are threatening the human population, and the animals are often blamed as the originators.
The growth rate in the animal husbandry sector is high, the farmers depending on the sector are ever increasing in the number, the income generated is rewarding, and the masses get more protein and nutrients. And things will further improve with more support to farmers and more investments into medium and large scale farming operations. Small holdings may grow to big farms, and people will find the sector lucrative. Animals may be cash generators or efficient re-cyclers of waste.
However, the animal holdings in thickly populated areas will create hygiene, veterinary, pollution and public health problems. The human population living in close proximity with the animals (in many cases under one roof) may help spread diseases. And the trade in livestock will aggravate the situation. The slums in big towns and cities where ‘the living together’ of animals and man is a common practice are vulnerable spots for the zoonotic and emerging diseases.
The chances of spread of emerging and zoonotic diseases are on the rise in the wake of over enthusiasm to promote livestock farming for the sake of food security and financial gains to the poor. Growth in animal husbandry should not be at the cost of public health. The moment is not far away when the entire system is toppled as the animal borne diseases take the toll.
What can the veterinarians do? A ‘responsible farming’ where all the stake holders shoulder the obligation to educate, practice and enforce the rules and guidelines for hygiene and sanitary conditions with the public health as the point of concern, is the need of the hour. But how?