Lumpy Skin Disease Plagues Cattle, Alarming Nepalese Farmers

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Kathmandu "

A devastating outbreak of Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) continues to wreak havoc on cattle and buffalo in Nepal, leaving animal husbandry farmers across the country deeply concerned as effective control measures have eluded authorities even four months since its initial appearance.

LSD is a vector-borne viral disease, caused by the LSD virus of the Poxviridae family, and has inflicted significant losses on the national economy while severely impacting the livelihoods of farmers. Characterized by skin nodules, the disease spreads rapidly and is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes and other blood-feeding insects. Infected cattle suffer from sores on their snouts, mouths, and noses, with excessive fluid discharge from the eyes and nose.

Originating in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey, LSD was first identified in Israel in 1989. Since 2019, the disease has been making its presence felt in South Asia, affecting countries like India, China, and Nepal, where it was first reported in the Sundarharaicha Municipality of Morang district on June 25, 2020.

The consequences have been dire, with thousands of cattle infected and a substantial number succumbing to the disease, resulting in tremendous losses to the nation's animal wealth. The epidemic has devastated farmers who have lost their primary source of income due to the death of milking cows and buffaloes. Unfortunately, there is no provision for government compensation, leaving many farmers anxious about their future.

The Department of Livestock Services (DoLS) revealed that the second wave of the disease began in March 2023 and has already affected around 800,000 cattle, with over 28,000 deaths and around 227,000 animals still infected.

Despite the severity of the situation, the disease has not received the attention it requires from all three tiers of the government – federal, provincial, and local – resulting in its rapid spread across the country. The outbreak has now turned into an epidemic, causing a decline in milk production, weakened livestock, and reproductive issues.

Dr. Chandra Dhakal, spokesperson for the DoLS, lamented that the lumpy skin disease has become an epidemic in all 77 districts within just four months of its March outbreak this year. The disease, initially limited to Tarai districts, has since extended its reach even to hilly and Himalayan regions, affecting some of the most remote areas.

The impact on Nepal's economy has been staggering, with preliminary estimates suggesting a loss of Rs. 40 billion due to LSD. The cost of damage per infected cattle amounts to approximately Rs. 49,135. In addition to financial losses, infected animals take several months to recover, and their production levels often never return to their pre-infection status, causing prolonged hardships for farmers.

Vaccination stands as the most effective preventive measure, but once cattle are infected, vaccination is no longer viable. Instead, veterinarians advise treatment based on the specific symptoms exhibited by the animal. Farmers are also urged to provide infected cattle with adequate food and liquids to boost immunity against the virus.

Although some local levels have proactively allocated budgets by diverting funds from other sectors to combat the disease, coordination issues among the federal, provincial, and local governments have hindered effective prevention and control strategies. The shortage of veterinarians and animal health technicians at the local level further compounds the problem, with the disease spreading to 77 districts.

To mitigate the crisis, experts emphasize vaccination before infection occurs, along with ensuring cleanliness to keep sheds free from flies, mosquitoes, and other insects. Cleaning and disinfecting personnel, premises, and environments are essential, as the virus remains infectious for months within the scabs shed by infected animals.

While the government has allocated funds for vaccination and disease control, the absence of a compensation act for farmers affected by LSD-related cattle deaths remains a significant concern. Only farmers with insured cattle have a chance of receiving compensation, and even then, not all farmers choose to insure their livestock.

Addressing the crisis demands better coordination and mechanisms between the three levels of government. For now, farmers struggle to cope with the devastating impact of the LSD epidemic, leaving their once-bustling sheds empty and their livelihoods uncertain.