Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bangladesh Anthrax Scare Threatens $400 Million In Exports


Special to All Headline News

Dhaka, Bangladesh (NewsBahn)

BANGLADESH REMAINS on high alert for reports of fresh anthrax infections creeping far and wide in the countryside amid a significant fall in consumption of beef and mutton.

Fisheries and Livestock Minister Abdul Latif Biswas has declared a nationwide anthrax threat.

The government, fearing the panic taking deep roots in the economy, has formed a national committee for control of anthrax infection before the Eid-ul-Azha, the Moslem festival of sacrifice of cattle in November.

Manufacturers of finished leather and leather goods, who yearly make nearly half a billion dollars in export earnings, are equally nervous. Last year earnings from exports of finished leather amounted $226 million and exports of leather shoes and leather goods earned more than $200 million.

Usually beef and mutton is in high demand during the festival of Eid-ul Azha. Nearly 40 per cent of the annual supply of rawhide is procured during the festival, said Mohammed Aftab, president of the Bangladesh Hides and Skin Merchants Association.

The anthrax infection, which began in a northern Bangladesh village Aug. 20, has gradually spread to half the country. Public health officials have raised the number of confirmed infections to nearly 600. The current outbreak has been described as the biggest in the country in two decades.

Health officials visiting the affected areas blamed consuming beef from sick cows that were not vaccinated as the cause of the anthrax spread.

Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) said no one had died from the infection and all affected persons were under treatment.

Anthrax is a potentially lethal bacterium that exists naturally in the soil and commonly infects livestock, which ingest or inhale its spores while grazing. It can be transmitted to humans who handle or eat infected animals.

Anthrax commonly affects hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, but humans who come into contact with the infected animals can get sick.

Abu Hadi Noor Ali Khan, professor of the veterinary department at Bangladesh Agricultural University, said the outbreak could not be contained without an adequate supply of anthrax vaccine.

“Only the government produces anthrax vaccines and the vaccines produced so far this year can vaccinate less than 5 per cent of the cattle,” Khan told English daily The New Age.

Most of the consumers in cities and small towns deliberately avoid beef curry and beef kabab from their daily platter for fear of being infected. Young people have resorted to ordering chicken or vegetarian menu, especially in popular hangouts such as KFC, Pizza Hut and other fast food outlets.

IEDCR director Mahmudur Rahman said all the cases were not anthrax, as many panic-stricken people are dubbing regular infections or any skin abnormalities as anthrax infections.

Meat traders have threatened to strike the capital if the government does not come up with an effective solution against anthrax within two weeks.

“No anthrax patient has been found in the city yet. Instead blamed the media and the government for creating panic over the infection,” claimed Golam Mortuza Montu, president of Bangladesh Meat Traders Association.

A cattle market on the fringe of the capital Dhaka is empty of livestock for sale. The number of cattle coming to the city has dropped radically. Many butchers have hung "no meats available" signs in front of their shops while others have barely managed to sell their stock. #

First published in All Headlines News (AHN), September 20, 2010

Saleem Samad, is a Bangladesh based journalist, an Ashoka Fellow for trend setting journalism and recipient of prestigious Hellman-Hammet Award. He has recently returned from exile in Canada.