The silence of the sheep

He is a young and earnest doctor. Vasudev Garg is a vet working in the remote parts of Jaisalmer district. He is responsible for the wellbeing of animals in a radius of over 120 kilometers. He has no means of transportation to get to each of his patients. So the burden is on the herder to transport his animals to the hospital.

There is a vaccine that Vasudev Garg can administer to inoculate sheep with a vaccine to prevent a disease named PPR that has been afflicting livestock in the area. It is a virus, highly contagious and affects domestic goat and sheep and small wild ruminants. The government does not want to declare this to be rampant, for fear of triggering panic, but many thousands of sheep have been dying.

Of the 200,000 livestock in the region only 1800 are inoculated. The vaccine must always be kept at about 4 degree centigrade until administered. There is no adequate refrigeration at the hospital. No cold storage facility during transportation.

Garg is not authorized to call this bout of PPR, a disease that has afflicted most livestock an ‘outbreak’. Another official from some other department has to make that announcement to the government.

In the last year information camps on PPR have been organized in his village. But the visitors were traders. The herders were unable to attend as they were tending their sick animals, and the long distances they have to trek in the desert deters them.

The deal with the government traditionally has been one of mutual indifference. Jaisalmer, spread over 38,000 square kilometers, has only about 500,000 people—that is one-half of Karnataka’s size which hosts 65 million people. Considering the other vastly populated regions of Rajasthan, this number does not add much to the vote bank so the politicians are not interested in doing anything about the disease or the silent suffering of the sheep.


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