CAIRO: Despite resistance from pig farmers, government plans to slaughter pigs as a precautionary measure against the H1N1 virus are moving forward, with a reported 1,821 slaughtered pigs at press time.
According to Ibrahim El-Bindary, head of preventive medicine at the Veterinary Services Authority, 616 pigs were culled and another 1,205 were slaughtered in the governorates of Cairo, Helwan, Beheira, Giza, Minya, Sohag and Menoufiya.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabaly said he would look into postponing pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia for two to three weeks, pending an assessment of the situation.
Though most estimates place the total number of pigs at around 300,000, El-Bindary said there were only approximately 156,000 pigs in 1,888 farms across the nation.
Farmers are receiving a LE 100 compensation for each slaughtered pig. These pigs are eligible for sale and consumption. Pregnant pigs and those under five months old, on the other hand, are being culled, their owners receiving LE 250 and LE 50 as compensation, respectively.
Pig farmers clashed with police authorities accompanying Veterinary Services officials, pelting them with rocks in resistance to the government decision.
El-Bindary acknowledged that there had been small clashes with some pig farmers.
“I don’t blame them, El-Bindary said. “Many of them have large families and they are worried about their livelihood. El-Bindary added that some farmers were concerned about their fate once the compensation money runs out.
However, many pig farmers are cooperating, he said. In Menoufiya, a Coptic woman came forward to notify the authorities that she had 12 pigs. Eight of them were culled and four slaughtered, and the woman received a LE 1,500 reward, El-Bindary said.
Though Egypt’s decision to cull the pigs was criticized by international organizations, El-Bindary said the government was taking a precautionary measure because pigs can serve as a host for mutations of the virus. He also pointed to the poor sanitary conditions of Egyptian pig farms.
In the future, once the crisis is averted, pig farms will be relocated away from residential areas, he said.
El-Bindary also stressed that the Veterinary Services Authority was staying vigilant, ensuring that pigs are not being smuggled across governorates, that all sanitation standards are being met, and that an awareness of the disease and the precautionary measures to avert it are being disseminated.
According to the latest reports of the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 1,124 confirmed cases of H1N1 in 21 countries. Topping the list are Mexico, with 590 confirmed cases, including 25 deaths, and the United States, with 286 cases, including one death.
There have been no reported cases in Egypt.
In a May 4 statement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations has no plans to raise the global alert level to a Phase 6 level of a pandemic.