Every year across Armenia, European Union grant money is spent in efforts
to combat disease spread from animals to humans. This year alone 950 million drams
(about $1.6 million) will be spent for protection against brucellosis, tuberculosis,
foot and mouth disease and anthrax.
many cattle for too few veterinarians creates
But this year, like others, consumers have taken
ill from meat spoiled by the potentially-deadly anthrax, more than 100 cases of
brucellosis will be reported, and foot-and-mouth disease is found in cattle, though
it is officially denied.
In August, ArmeniaNow reporter Vahan Ishkhanyan
won an investigative reporting grant from IREX/ProMedia, a United States Agency
for International Aid media-strengthening program, and was assigned to research
Armenia's battle against these infrequent, but potentially dangerous, health risks.
this second part of the report we look at causes for the current conditions. Click
here to see last week's report.
A breakdown in the system
According to the Statistics Service
there are 535,784 head of great cattle, 602,560 head of small cattle, 111,031
pigs and 12,141 horses in Armenia. All these animals belong to 333,000 households,
many having from two to 20 animals.
If Armenia's animal disease control
is lacking, there may be reasonable explanations.
First: Reaching each 330,000
households is a monumental task. Even then, there is no guarantee of finding every
animal, as herds are not kept in fenced pastures, but are shepharded to nearby
hills or valleys for grazing.
Such problems were not faced in Soviet times,
when animals were housed on appointed state collective farms. Privatization -
in this case, the division of animals from one central farm into many households
- presented logistical difficulties for animal treatment.
Second: Low pay
A veterninarian in Armenia is paid 20,000 drams
(about $35) for vaccinating 2,000 cattle per month,
less than two cents per animal. The effort requires
dealing with the above mentioned logistical problems
and with facing farmers who often do not welcome
the vet's presence because they do not want the
state to know how many animals they have. It is
little reason few students study to be veterninarians.
There are other reasons,
however, which officials aren't as willing to talk about.
after detecting anthrax in Yervandashat, the head of the Veterinary Inspection
Anushavan Aghajanyan stated that all spring measures have been taken on the territory
of the entire republic. Head of the Department of Veterinary Security of the Ministry
of Agriculture Tigran Gasparyan insists on the same. However, their insistences
don't correspond to reality.
Five of seven planned measures haven't been
taken in Irind. Diagnoses of such dangerous diseases as brucellosis and tuberculosis
haven't been made, nor had vaccinations against anthrax.
According to data
of the Department of Veterinary Security of the Ministry of Agriculture, as of
August 20 of this year tests for brucellosis and tuberculosis have been made only
in nine of 42 villages of the Talin region, where brucellosis was detected in
approximately 100 animals. According to head of Talin Veterinary Service, Misha
Simonyan, only about 12,000 of 64,000 cattle have been tested for brucellosis
"It's true that spring measures haven't been taken
up to now but it's not our fault," Simonyan says. "We've recently received
The government held a competition for the contract of veterinary
service. One of the winning bids was from Hayruskensaard Ltd. The head of that
company, Hrayr Hakobyan, says medicines were received in May.
of Agrciulture began distributing brucellosis tests and anthrax vaccines on June
10. As of this report - 50 days later - less than one-fifth of Talin's animal
population had not been tested or vaccinated.
Grigoryan: "Sick animals shouldn't be
taken to pasture.".|
And even if they'd been tested and innoculated immediately
upon receiving the medicines, it might not have been an effective time.
must be taken in spring before taking animals to pastures and in autumn after
taking them back from pastures," says professor Grigoryan. "Sick animals
shouldn't be taken to pastures where they can infect the grass."
vaccines and tests were brought to many places only after animals had already
been taken to pastures.
Veterinary Service Sargis-Nvard Ltd. of Ashtarak
region has detected 51 cases of brucellosis this year. Tuberculosis was detected
in 2001. One of the service's veterinarians said that if there are 25,000 great
cattle in the region then they manage to examine and vaccinate only 15,000. When
his service got vaccines in June, the rest of the animals had already been taken
to mountainous pastures, some of which are 60-70 kilometers away from their off-season
It is the second year that bids have been taken for veterinary
services and the second time that winners were announced in spring.
of the competition should have been announced in December, so that vaccines could
have been distributed before spring when the season for measures starts,"
says deputy head of the Department of Veterinary Security of the Ministry of Agriculture
Gevorg Tovmasyan. "However, the amount of money planned for taking measures
becomes clear only after confirming the budget. While they are deciding the amount
and order of diseases against which measures must be taken, spring already starts."
battle against sick animals is confounded by another after-effect of privatization.
is that the Paros project, which provides living-support grants for the needy,
does not give grants to those owning cattle. Many villagers, then, try to keep
it secret that they have cattle.
But when veterinarians make their rounds,
they must show documents of how many cattle have been vaccinated or tested. For
very practical economic reasons, villagers are reluctant to admit their "wealth",
prefering to hide animals and risk disease than lose potential financial aid.
villagers also keep closed-mouthed about their herds as a means of avoiding pasturage
fees. Since land became privatized, pasturage must be paid for.
In the village of Arutch, for example, cattlemen
must pay 30 drams a year for each sheep (about
5 cents) and 100 drams (about 15 cents) for each
cow. Heads of villages keep documentation of the
payment and have an "official" account
of each head of cattle; and it is that number
that is used for estimating veterinary needs.
But the official count primarily relies on the honor system. And
it is a system liable to breakdown.
"I visit all houses and ask people how many
animals they have," says the head of the
Arutch village. "They say the number but
don't you think that I'm going to enter each cattle-shed
to check their information? I send figures to
Ashtarak and they send me vaccines based on the
figures I had sent them before."
The leader adds that the veterinarians bring
additional medicines to allow for extras that
might not appear on the offical list.
Like in other regions of Armenia,
in Ashtarak almost no tests are made for detecting brucellosis in small cattle.
they come for taking blood tests they take tests only from the great cattle,"
says farmer Mihran Manukyan, who has 14 cows and 14 sheep. "They don't test
the sheep and I don't offer them."
Veterinarians of Ashtarak Veterinary
Service also confess that they don't' take blood tests for detecting brucellosis
from all heads of small cattle.
"I can say that small cattle are almost
not tested in Armenia," says Vardapetyan. "Heads of great cattle have
their own names and when blood tests are taken names of animals are written down
in the documents and then names of their owners. Small cattle have no marks or
signs. Tickets with numbers must be attached to each head of small cattle which
will make taking blood tests easier and only in that case it will become possible
to prevent brucellosis."
Forty years ago Soviet Armenia adopted a procedure
for preventing brucellosis. If an animal was determined to have brucellosis, it
was to be killed, the area disinfected, and all other cattle given blood test
four times a year. (In places where no brucellosis had been detected, cattle must
have been tested twice a year). However, that order was not carried out.
these days, blood tests are not taken even twice a year - even in the places where
brucellosis has been found.
"If we rated the struggle against brucellosis
using a 10-point system, I would rate it with one point, 10 percent," says
Grigoryan. "If you clear brucellosis from one village and don't do the same
in another village then nothing will help and there won't be any results. Serious
veterinary and sanitary measures must be taken."
During Soviet times
there were special slaughter houses for destroying sick animals. Now, however,
left to their own judgements, farmers often slaughter sick animals and take the
meat to market.
And often, infected milkcows are not slaughtered, because
they are only sources of income.
Every morning Veterinary Security Centers
test meat in shops and restaurants and only after giving proper documents telling
that meat is not infected, can it be sold. These measures, however, don't include
tests for brucellosis.
"After boiling meat infected with brucellosis
you can eat it," says head of the Laboratory of Komitas market Vahram Gerkyan.
However he avoids telling whether it's safe to make cutlets from that meat.
of animals sick with brucellosis must not be sold," says professor Grigoryan,
"according to order it must be liquidated. But how can one liquidate it if
there are no conditions for that? A villager slaughters his animal in his yard
and takes it for sale and that's how disease is spread."
meat has been traced to some farmers, no one has been prosecuted. But neither
is their any system in place (as in Western countries) for compensating a farmer
who loses livestock to disease.
"Let them pay me the price of my cow,
then I won't sell this meat," said one villager who knowingly took meat from
a sick cow to sell in Yerevan.