Middle East meets West

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A Bedouin tent near Be'er Sheva in Southern Israel may seem an unlikely setting for collaboration between veterinarians and farmers in a part of the world that has seen more than its share of political turmoil. Last year, however, veterinarians from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority territories on the West Bank and Gaza teamed up with American representatives to observe an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The trip was part of a workshop sponsored by the Middle East Regional Cooperation program. Held at the Kimron Veterinary Research Institute in Israel, the focus was ways of improving FMD diagnosis and epidemiologic work.

In Arabic, Hebrew, and English, the multinational representatives discussed disease control and prevention.

Dr. Ellis Gross converses with an Arab farmer
Dr. Ellis Gross (left), district veterinary officer with the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, converses with an Arab farmer.

Infectious disease agents have no respect for international borders, and a regional approach is needed if long-term improvements are to be made. Foot-and-mouth disease has been a major problem in the region during the past six months and may have spread from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Losses in newborn ruminants have been high, up to 100 percent in some flocks and herds. Traditional husbandry methods and attitudes do not always favor modern veterinary disease control methods, such as quarantine, movement controls, herd/flock identifiers, and slaughter policies.

In 1979 Congress created the Middle East Regional Cooperation program to promote technical cooperation between Egypt and Israel. Projects funded under the program are geared toward solving regional problems that require multinational solutions, and, in the process, encourage peace in the troubled region.

Since the Oslo Accord of 1995, other Middle East countries have become eligible for participation. The US Agency for International Development and the European Community are the main donors supporting the program's regional animal health activities.

The USAID is funding two three-year projects in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Both projects aim at improving the research capabilities through training of field and laboratory personnel as well as providing equipment and improved diagnostic capabilities. Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine is the chief contractor for a project that focuses on FMD, neonatal mortality in small ruminants, and brucellosis - the major zoonotic disease in the region, with Brucella melitensis infection in sheep and goats being the primary target (see JAVMA, March 1, 2000, page 648, for related story).

Dr. George Saperstein supervises the Tufts project, which was developed by Dr. David Sherman and Dr. Jody Garbe. Dr. Ashley Robinson was stationed in Amman, Jordan during 1998-1999 as liaison veterinarian and was responsible for coordinating the research and planning the collaborative workshops.

The other animal health project funded by USAID is exploring the effects of regional collaboration on neoplastic and immunodepressive diseases of poultry. The project is contracted to The Ohio State University and Dr. Mo Saif is the principal investigator.

The European Community has been active throughout the region establishing an information system that facilitates rapid electronic communication on disease outbreaks and provides access to Web sites for the latest epidemiologic and research findings. The EC is also conducting a regional rabies control pilot study involving use of oral vaccines for wildlife reservoirs, such as jackals.

A provincial committee oversees these projects as well as animal and public health. This committee comprises the directors of veterinary services in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.

Longstanding regional political conflict in the Middle East has not impeded veterinary cooperation. Despite a decision by the Arab League to boycott regional meetings where Israel participates, the regional oversight committee has been one of the only working groups to continue meeting twice a year and support regional meetings and workshops for investigators.

For additional information about these projects, visit the Middle East Regional Veterinary Information System Project Web site: www.move-in.org. Dr. Ellis Gross (left), district veterinary officer with the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, converses with an Arab farmer.