Diagnosis of poultry diseases in Nepal is neglected and available services are often time-consuming and require extensive planning on farmer’s part, which may not always be feasible. In a country where the poultry industry contributes more than 4% of the total GDP, modern laboratories for disease diagnosis in chickens as well as checking feed and meat quality are severely lacking. Even in a highly urbanized and developed city like Kathmandu, it normally takes few days from sample collection and obtaining a diagnostic report, this highlights serious need for readily accessible and less time-consuming diagnostic services for farmers.
Biovac Nepal offers portable, on-site diagnostic for poultry diseases, first of such services in Nepal that can accurately detect and characterize pathogens at the site of incident using point of care (POC) technologies. This eliminates the need for sample to be transported over long distances for tests and allows more time for intervention.
Abhishek Rana, 20, a student in Kathmandu started backyard poultry farming as a hobby and to earn an extra income apart from the pocket money he received from his parents. Within the first year, his chickens were plagued with series of diseases.
“I started with four chickens of various different local breeds as they are known for their resilience to diseases”, he said. “I had done extensive reading online from various poultry-related websites, and researched for specific diseases by searching various symptoms. I suspected Newcastle Disease and even bought medicines recommended by those websites but haven’t seen much progress in the chickens”
When asked if he has sought professional help from veterinarians or taken tissue samples to diagnostic laboratory, he stated that he couldn’t afford to pay for veterinary services or have time to take chickens or tissue samples to diagnostic laboratory.
Commercial farms can afford to have regular visits from a veterinarian whereas backyard poultry farms are often unable to have such doctors on regular payroll. This was also evident in disease surveillance carried out by Biovac Nepal in commercial and backyard poultry farms ten districts spanning from east to west Nepal in 2018, only one backyard farm out of 40 visited ever had received veterinary services. As backyard chickens account for 45% of total poultry industry, lack of such poultry health services-seeking habit among farmers in concerning. This is evident in both urban and rural backyard farmers in Nepal.
A Biovac employee that knew Abhishek informed him of services offered by the company and would come to his house, conduct the tests for Newcastle Disease Virus for free (as the company was in pilot-testing phase), and provide him with results within couple of hours. He was ecstatic and agreed to have his chickens tested.
“I had no idea that these kinds of services were available here. For a full-time student with very little spare time, having someone come over to the house and diagnose my chickens is unheard of” Abhishek claimed. We informed Abhishek that Biovac is rolling out POC services, the first of its kind in the country. He seemed excited to see what the results would be.
Lack of rapid identification and characterization of diseases can have catastrophic impact on poultry farms where highly pathogenic diseases like Newcastle Disease (ND), Avian Influenza, or Salmonellosis can ravage through entire flocks within few days. The scenario is even worse in rural parts of Nepal where the farmers have to travel for an entire day to another district, often carrying dead chickens with them, to visit a diagnostic laboratory and get accurate information on diseases affecting their chickens. It might be too late by the time they return to their farms as most of their chickens could have been affected. This often leads to farmers either not seeking health services for their chickens or haphazardly administering medicines and antibiotics from local vets.
Abhishek shared similar experiences of being reluctant to consult a veterinarian due to financial and time constraints. He sought advices from neighbors that also had backyard chickens. And when he did visit an Agro-Vet (a one-stop shop that offers everything from feed to medications for poultry), the veterinarian prescribed him an antibiotic. Biovac’s vet identified the medicine as a strong, synthetic antibiotic usually reserved for dire situations only. He seemed very disheartened about rearing chickens as they struggled to survive, in spite of his extensive research and efforts, and was considering not rearing them at all and switching to quails and pigeons.
Challenges of rearing backyard poultry shared by Abhishek were also echoed by numerous farmers Biovac’s field team had encountered during their disease surveillance. Additionally, the trend among local veterinarians of hastily prescribing strong antibiotics often do more harm than good and aid in development of anti-microbial resistant strains of bacteria.
Thus, the need for deployment of accurate and efficient POC services that offer diagnosis on a molecular level is realized throughout the world and even more so in a developing nation like Nepal where access to diagnostic services are scarce. Furthermore, using such mobile, POC services not only drastically reduces time between disease diagnosis and intervention for chickens but also has significant impact on reduction of economic losses for farmers.
In case of Abhishek, using Biomeme’s portable thermocycler, Biovac’s mobile diagnostic team was able to successfully rule out ND virus for his chickens. The result was a big relief for Abhishek since for the longest time he had been suspecting ND as the cause of his chickens’ mortality and had been administering medications for it.
Biovac Nepal is a poultry vaccine producing company that also offers other services like mobile diagnosis, is veterinary consultation. A veterinary doctor will lead the mobile diagnostic team and in Abhishek’s case was able to identify lack of proper biosafety measures and possible water contamination as a source of infection for his chickens. Providing access to qualified doctors and accurate disease diagnosis on-site will not only provide poultry farmers like Abhishek with valuable consultations but will also encourage health-services seeking behaviours among farmers.