Veterinarian supports animal relief efforts following Pakistan floods

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Dr. Inayat Kathio is on a mission. The Pakistani-American is trying to collect desperately needed antimicrobials for livestock affected by the floods devastating his native country.

Dead cattle in flood water
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the flooding in Pakistan has put millions of animals at risk.

The Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report this August in which the United Nation's agency declared that approximately 200,000 cows, sheep, buffalo, goats, and donkeys had been confirmed dead or missing in the most severe flooding in Pakistan's history. Poultry losses are estimated to be several times higher.

Livestock account for nearly half of Pakistan's agricultural gross domestic product. The FAO says it's imperative to get food and medicine to the animals quickly. The UN agency worries the number of dead animals could reach the millions, potentially crippling the nation's economy.

A naturalized U.S. citizen for three decades, Dr. Kathio often takes time off from his small animal/exotics clinic in Pittston, Pa., to promote veterinary medicine and animal welfare around the world and to visit Pakistan, where he oversees seven low-cost veterinary clinics. He saw how dire the situation in Pakistan had become during a visit with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in early August.

"I witnessed for myself the flooding, the people displaced, and the disease in the livestock," Dr. Kathio said.

In July heavy monsoon rains triggered major flooding in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and Punjab provinces, putting approximately one-fifth of Pakistan under water and creating a humanitarian disaster affecting more than 20 million people. Grain, sugar cane, and rice harvests have been washed away.

Poultry stocks in some regions have been wiped out entirely. "Livestock in this country are the poor people's mobile ATM," said David Doolan, senior FAO officer in charge of agency programs in Pakistan. "Every animal we save is a productive asset that poor families can use to rebuild their lives when the floods finally pass."

While he was in Pakistan, Dr. Kathio purchased antimicrobials from local pharmacies and distributed them among the veterinary staff at his clinics to treat livestock. Following a flood, hemorrhagic septicemia is the primary killer of water buffalo, he explained. Animals are also susceptible to foot rot, ringworm, and Salmonella and Escherichia coli infection.

Additionally, Dr. Kathio encouraged several U.S. veterinary schools to send staff and students to support animal relief efforts.

"I'd like to see the world come together to help Pakistan," Dr. Kathio said. "This is an ethical issue for the world to come in and help this poor country."

The UN has requested $5.7 million in emergency assistance for livestock, and the FAO has dedicated $1.4 million to buy feed and animal vaccines. The agency expects to ask for more money once the needs are better understood.

Along with confronting a major animal welfare crisis, Pakistan's animal agriculture infrastructure is in immediate jeopardy. According to Dr. Ghulam Habib, dean of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Sciences at the Agricultural University in Peshawar, lowered milk and meat production is resulting in reduced income and the lower sale value of weak and sick animals is further contributing to the problem.

"Farmers reported that they would like to sell some of their animals, but the price has gone down to less than half of the normal value because they are sick and weak, and everybody knows they (the farmers) desperately need money, so they pay little," Dr. Habib wrote in an e-mail to JAVMA News.

The government's capacity to provide animal medicines, vaccines, and feed is strained to the breaking point, Dr. Habib wrote, and "gigantic efforts" are needed to improve the baseline quality of life for livestock farmers.

"(The) post-flood scenario for livestock, together with agriculture losses, anticipate economic and social chaos. The rehabilitation program shall include immediate, medium, and long term strategies to recover the losses and put the livestock sector on proper footings as a source of livelihood and food security," Dr. Habib explained.

Since returning to the United States, Dr. Kathio has been soliciting donations of animal antimicrobials that he can take to Pakistan when he returns in November. So far, he's had little luck.

Dr. Kathio agrees that people are the focus of much of the international relief response, but he worries about the long-term damage resulting from the large-scale loss of livestock, which will eventually have to be replaced because they are a vital national resource.

"When the people have money, they buy and breed livestock," he said. "When they are poor, they sell the livestock to make a living. Here we treasure our pets—our dogs and cats—but livestock is a source of income for people in Pakistan."