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Urgent Call to Upgrade Poultry Disease Lab

by 5m Editor
15 November 2010, at 12:01a.m.

PAKISTAN - The National Reference Laboratory for Poultry Diseases, approved two years ago, is yet to be upgraded as the government is reported to be short of funds.

The National Reference Laboratory for Poultry Diseases (NRLPD) Islamabad is yet to be upgraded to Bio-Security Level (BSL)-3 despite receiving approval over two years ago.

Daily Times of Pakistan reports that the NRLPD plays a vital role in the surveillance of bird flu and other deadly viral infections, which are transferable from birds to human beings.

National Avian Influenza Control Programme Sindh Coordinator Dr Muhammad Aslam Jalali said the NRLPD is the only lab of its kind in Pakistan.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) had declared Pakistan as free from bird flu after the NRLPD's results.

It is necessary to upgrade this lab to BSL-3 to make it more effective and to protect the lives of the people working there.

Only two rooms of the lab have been upgraded to BSL-3, but the need of the hour is to convert it into a complete BSL-3 lab.

Biosafety Association of Pakistan Chairperson, Dr Shahana Urooj, said the NRLPD should be upgraded to BSL-3 not because this lab could also conduct surveillance of dengue, swine flu and other deadly viruses.

Bird Flu Control Programme Sindh Surveillance Officer, Dr Rashid Farooq, said diagnosis and monitoring of the avian influenza is the responsibility of the NRLPD.

This lab has the ability of analysing the behaviour and structure of all types of viruses, and it has been performing this duty with regard to the bird flu virus since 2004.

The new equipment would enable the lab to test samples to determine the strain of the avian flu virus within six hours.

The NRLPD is the only Food and Agriculture Organisation-approved lab for handling the avian influenza pandemic in South Asia, so samples from various South Asian countries are sent there for virus isolation and other tests.

The matter of concern is that the lab is not being completely upgraded to BSL-3, which means that a large number of researchers, including 47 PhD scholars, are risking their lives by performing their duties.

Sources in the NRLPD said the lab had been approved for being upgraded more than two years ago, but the authorities are delaying it on the pretext of 'lack of funds'.

Interestingly, offers by various international organisations, including United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), are already available for upgrading the lab.

Daily Times reports that whenever the government is asked for funds, they say: "We are facing shortage of funds for provision of drinking water. How can we provide funds for enhancement of the lab?"

However, the newspaper says it is incomprehensible why the higher authorities do not accept USAID or other agencies' offers when they are facing shortage of funds.

According to sources, some corrupt elements are creating hurdles in the enhancement of the lab, as they want their share in the funds allocated for this purpose, concludes the Daily Times report.

Further Reading

- You can visit the Avian Flu page by clicking here.