The Saudi Arabian government has issued a temporary ban on imports of live birds, hatching eggs and chicks from India. The ban was issued after India reported an outbreak of bird flu in the state of Karnataka. The contagious virus strain called H5N8 is highly lethal to other poultry.
Avian influenza—known informally as avian flu or bird flu is a variety of influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds. The type with the greatest risk is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Bird flu is similar to swine flu, dog flu, horse flu and human flu as an illness caused by strains of influenza viruses that have adapted to a specific host. Out of the three types of influenza viruses (A, B, and C), influenza A virus is a zoonotic infection with a natural reservoir almost entirely in birds. Avian influenza, for most purposes, refers to the influenza A virus.
An outbreak of the H5N1 virus in India in 2006 seriously disrupted the functioning of the poultry industry in Navapur, negatively affecting the people living in the area as the poultry industry was their main source of income at the time. Prices of chicken products across India plummeted resulting in a steep rise in the prices of mutton and fish. The poultry industry was expected to have lost hundreds of millions of rupees because of this. Airlines including Air India, Jet Airways, Indian Airlines and Kingfisher Airlines took chicken off their in-flight menus. There have been outbreaks of avian flu in 2008 in West Bengal and in 2014 in Kerala. This feared strain is fatal to humans. It caused the deaths of nearly 400 people and hundreds of millions of poultry after it spread from Asia into Europe and Africa in 2005-2006.
Saudi imports from India amounted to $7 billion or 2.7% of India's overall exports in 2015. The top imports were oil ($1.8 billion), cereals ($1.1 billion), machinery ($459 million) and iron or steel products ($367.8 million). Meat is also one of the top imports to Saudi Arabia with the imports being worth $267.9 million in 2015.
In January 2018, the World Health Organization revealed that the Indian government had detected another outbreak of the bird flu in the state of Karnataka. This was based on a report from the Indian agricultural ministry.
The contagious bird flu virus, H5N8, was detected near the city of Bangalore. The city is well known as a corporate hub that hosts multiple international organizations and companies. The H5N8 virus was earlier detected on 26th December among birds in the village of Dasarahalli. It resulted in the deaths of 9 out of 951 birds. The others were culled, the Paris-based OIE said in a report posted on its website.
In the wake of the news reports, Saudi Arabian government has announced that it will be issuing a temporary ban on live poultry imports from India. The government noted that the ban applies to live birds, hatching eggs and chicks. This particular strain of bird is deadly and lethal for other poultry as it is contagious.
The region of Saudi Arabia itself dealt with bird flu in recent months. In December 2017 it was revealed that seven cases of H5N8 avian flu had been recorded in the country. At the time, the ministry banned all poultry farms, transport firms and bird breeders from transporting birds between different regions of the Kingdom without obtaining the necessary licenses. In January 2018, three news cases had sprung once again in the region.
Our assessment is that outbreaks of contagious strains such as the H5N8 not only affect the livelihoods of local farmers rearing poultry but also have a negative impact on a nation’s economy. The temporary ban issued by Saudi Arabia will affect India’s exports for the year and on a micro level affect the businesses that depend on these exports. Prevention of such outbreaks is therefore imperative to ensure the health of not only citizens but also the economy.