Glanders: Its high time to form a national policy

The recent outbreak of Glanders in parts of Madhya Pradesh has once again raised the ugly question- Are we failing as a nation to control the deadly disease? The answer may partly be in the affirmative. Glanders was a worldwide problem for equines, but by 1900s it had been eradicated from Europe, North America and Australia. On the other hand in our country, this disease which was endemic to certain regions, over the years has assumed epidemic proportions.

Glanders which was largely considered as an endemic disease of Uttar Pradesh and Himachal has crossed their boundaries and now its epidemic in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Punjab, UP, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. There have been more than 200 cases reported since April 2017 in contrast with the 143 cases reported in 2016-2017.

What do all these figures indicate? It simply means that the disease is spreading at an alarming rate and we are not doing enough about it.

As per 2012 animal census, the equine population is around 1.1 million comprising Horses, Ponies, Mules and Donkeys. Even with such a small number of the equine population we are not been able to eradicate the Glanders from our country, the main reason for that could be the highly mobile and uncontrolled movement of these animals in the endemic areas. There is no vaccine and not much advancement in this area as the pathogen is highly infectious and difficult to handle. The only method to contain it is through active surveillance and culling of the infected animal.

The disease itself was considered so dreaded that the British had to pass Glanders and Farcy Act 1899 which called for the culling of the diseased animal and the compensation was Rs 50 per animal at that time. This continued until 2009 when the Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases in Animals Act, 2009 was passed. The compensation has now been increased to Rs 25,000 per horse and Rs 16,000 per mule/donkey. This still so meagre compensation and the associated difficulties in getting it, often prompt the owners to remain silent about the condition of the equine. Diseased animals are sold in the open market without any restrictions which take place in the form of annual Horse fairs thereby opening the boundaries of other states for this dreaded disease.

As per an interview by the Director ICAR-NRCE, Dr B N Tripathi to a magazine, India lacks a full-fledged policy on Glanders. The usual procedure is that after ICAR-NRCE has confirmed glanders, the state government notifies it and the Department of Animal Husbandry culls the infected animals. But we need a policy for the entire country, where there are monitoring and surveillance. The movement of animals in endemic areas should be restricted. Why is it that despite having only 1.2 million horses nationwide, we have not been able to eradicate the disease?” said Dr Tripathi.

The question raised by Dr Tripathi is a valid one. We are having a national policy on FMD and often there are talks and debates on the eradication of FMD through vaccinations and there are regular cycles for FMD vaccinations in the form bi-annual drive by the respective Animal Husbandry departments of the states. Isn’t it ironical that on one hand we have such a coordinated policy for FMD and on the other, we are still searching for unified policy on the Glanders which is much dreaded and zoonotic in nature? The answer is, FMD affects the cattle and the cattle belong to the farmers and our Governments are naturally more sensitive to the farmers and agricultural sector as a whole. Glanders do pose a threat to life and livelihood of the owners, who often are too poor and unknowledgeable to understand the gravity of the situation, but their number is small and their plight remains unnoticed.

Now it is high time to form a national policy on the Glanders. The Veterinary community will have to come forward and demand and debate on the national policy on Glanders. In the meanwhile, states have the responsibility to monitor and restrict the movement of the Animals. This is one such situation where both the Center and the States have to come together and think about not only restricting the disease but to eradicating the disease.