(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Teams deployed to stem myiasis outbreak in northeast

A dirty environment is one of the factors responsible for the spread of the screwworm fly, according to experts
Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN

The General Department for Animal Health and Veterinary Quarantine (GDAHVQ) in Yemen's Ministry of Agriculture has deployed 21 field teams in the northeast to combat a new outbreak of myiasis, an infestation of human or animal tissue with fly larvae (maggots).

The disease first appeared in Saada Governorate near the border with Saudi Arabia in December 2007. It then spread to the governorates of Hajjah, al-Hudeidah, and al-Mahwit, putting livestock at risk. Last summer the disease disappeared as a result of high temperatures in these areas.

Mansour al-Qadasi, director-general of the GDAHVQ, said the screwworm fly, which causes myiasis, thrives in mild conditions with a specific level of humidity, preferring areas with plants.

"Myiasis has spread to the western region of Tehama, where the temperature gets up to over 40 degrees centigrade in summer. Because of the high temperature, last summer the screwworm moved into the versants of al-Mahwit's mountains, where the weather was temperate," he told IRIN, adding that pesticide use in the area had played a role in combating the infestation.

Over the past two months, however, screwworm flies have spread from al-Mahwit and are now moving west into al-Hudeidah Governorate and north into Hajjah Governorate, he said.

"We are trying to confine the screwworms to this triangle-like area despite our limited resources. If the disease increases rapidly, regional cooperation will be needed."

Over 1,700 animals killed in al-Mahwit

Myiasis has spread to five out of nine districts in al-Mahwit Governorate - Hufash, al-Mahwit, Melhan, Bani Saad and al-Khabt. So far the disease has affected some 4,000 animals and killed another 1,756 in those districts, according to Mohammed al-Sirmi, head of the Agriculture Office in al-Mahwit Governorate.

"In al-Mahwit, livestock is the main source of income for a lot of villagers. The disease has affected their lives: we have found miserable cases of people who have lost the livestock on which they depended for a livelihood," al-Sirmi told IRIN.

Yemen has an estimated 15 million sheep, 1.4 million cattle and 250,000 camels, according to GDAHVQ.

Raising awareness among villagers was necessary to combat the disease: "Combating the disease locally is best, since maggot flies can spread rapidly. When a field team finishes fighting myiasis in one area, it can be surprised by its appearance in another area," al-Sirmi said.

"Field teams are also carrying out awareness campaigns to help teach villagers fight the disease. People can fight the disease. They can cover animals' wounds and remove the eggs from them."

According to al-Qadasi, Yemen recently received assistance from international organisations to combat myiasis. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) purchased medicines for combating myiasis at a cost of US$42,000; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) donated diagnostic equipment at a cost of US$50,000. The Arab Organisation for Agriculture Development (AOAD) provided Yemen with microscopes and training for field workers.


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