African swine fever Policy Event – Lessons learnt from Europe and policy challenges for Asia
The situation of African swine fever (ASF), a deadly disease of pigs, has considerably worsened over the past years. In the traditionally endemic sub-Saharan Africa, the disease continues to spread into newly affected areas as the pig production and global movements in the region increase. There is now a new open front inthe Caucasus and Eastern Europe, where the disease progressively expands to historically ASF-free countries through unregulated transactions of animals and pork within the backyard sector as well as through uncontrolled wild boar movements.
The global ASF virus circulation is probably at its historical peak and this has led to the highest risk ever for the disease to enter into Asia, and particularly China. China is home to almost half of the pigs worldwide, many in the highly susceptible backyard sector. An ASF epidemic in the region would have most catastrophic effects in the pork supply and protein availability worldwide. There are very strong connections between China and ASF-infected countries, i.e. China is the biggest importer of pork and over the past few years it has developed very strong links with African countries through large investment and development projects, which translate into growing amounts of people and goods, e.g. pork, moving between Africa and China. Moreover, China shares border with the ASF-endemic Russian Federation
However, the fact that China, and Asia in general, have never encountered ASF, translates into the region being ill-prepared against an eventual incursion of the deadly pig disease, both in terms of policy and capacity. It is therefore no surprise that within LinkTADs (www.linktads.com), an EU-funded, FAO-coordinated project aimed at stimulating joint research between the EU and China, ASF has been ranked as the first priority both from the epidemiology and the laboratory science points of view in both regions.
To address the policy gap, the African swine fever Policy Event – Lessons learnt from Europe and policy challenges for Asia, was organized by FAO within LinkTADs, bringing together 36 participants from different stakeholder groups:
- Chinese policy makers (Veterinary Bureau, CAHEC and CADC); Veterinary Services from selected East Asian (China, Japan and the Philippines) and South-East Asian (Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) countries;
- Experts on ASF epidemiology and diagnosis from the OIE Reference Laboratory for ASF at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid (UCM), Spain; the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Poland; the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and CIRAD;
- Representatives from the EU, Canadian, French, Polish and Spanish delegations in China; USDA APHIS, EU-China Trade Project (II), OIE (headquarters and regional office), and FAO representatives from headquarters, ECTAD China and RAP.
The objectives of the event were 1) to provide a structured platform for high-level policy dialogue; 2) to identify the main gaps related to ASF policy in East and South East Asia; 3) to develop a set of recommendations and follow-up strategy for East and South East Asia to develop their policy against ASF; and 4) to assess the possibility of launching new joint initiatives.
The morning session was structured as a series of presentations by experts, who presented the epidemiology, policy and current challenges encountered by the EU, first in the prevention and then in the control, once ASF entered the region. Similarly, the existing policies in China and Asian countries specific to ASF were presented. The afternoon session was largely dedicated to a round-table discussion on the different policy issues and gaps in Asia (mainly China-focused). An attempt was made to explore how the lessons learnt in the EU and elsewhere fighting the disease could by applied and extrapolated to the reality in East and Southeast Asia. In addition, the contingency plan for China and its preliminary analysis done by UCM experts under the China Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project for ASF was presented.
A number of policy issues were highlighted and discussed in detail. Most importantly, there is a lack of ASF-specific contingency plans in most countries. Other animal health plans, e.g. surveillance, awareness, control, etc. are also lacking. The backyard sector, which represents a large proportion of the pig population in the region would represent another major early detection and control challenge. Similarly, wild boar is largely neglected by veterinary services, despite the endemic presence of classical swine fever (CSF). Numbers and distributionare mostly unknown and there is no wild boar health management in place. The region presents very porous borders that would hardly prevent ASF from spreading from one country to another in the event of an incursion. Finally, there is the diagnostic dilemma, i.e. how to detect ASF in a region where so many other swine diseases that look alike are endemic, e.g. CSF.
The workshop recognizes that:
- The situation of African swine fever (ASF), a deadly disease of pigs, has considerably worsened over the past years. In the traditionally endemic sub-Saharan Africa, the disease continues to spread into newly affected areas as the pig production and global movements in the region increase. There is now a new open front in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe;
- The global ASF virus circulation, at its historical peak, has lead to the highest risk ever for the disease to enter into Asia, particularly China;
- East and Southeast Asia are home to 65% of the world’s pig population (with almost half of them in China). An ASF epidemic in the region would have most catastrophic effects in the pork supply and protein availability worldwide;
- There are very strong connections between China and ASF-infected countries, i.e. China is the biggest importer of pork and over the past few years has developed very strong links with African countries through large investment and development projects, which translate into growing amounts of people and goods moving between Africa and China. Moreover, China shares border with the ASF-endemic Russian Federation;
- Given the historical freedom of ASF in the region, awareness on the risk of introduction is low and countries are not always prepared against an eventual incursion of the disease, both in terms of policy (ASF-specific contingency plans, as well as other animal health plans, e.g. surveillance, awareness, control, etc.) and capacity (clinical recognition, laboratory diagnosis, prevention and control tools);
- The large proportion of pigs in the low biosecurity backyard sector in many countries in the region would represent a major challenge in terms of early detection and control of ASF, given the sector’s lack of awareness and low compliance with animal health regulations, as well as the poor information on numbers, distribution and market chains;
- The presence of wild boar in the region would further complicate the detection and control of ASF in these populations, since numbers and distribution are mostly unknown and wild boar health management is generally lacking in the region;
- The region’s porous borders would make it difficult to prevent ASF from spreading from one country to another in the event of an incursion;
- Early diagnosis of ASF in a region would be complicated by the fact that many swine diseases with similar clinical presentation are endemic in the region, e.g. classical swine fever (CSF)
- The largely unknown status of Ornithodoros tick species in terms of species present, distribution and ability to transmit the virus.
The workshop recommends to:
- Strengthen communications among countries in the region (as well to OIE) using existing platforms/fora to timely notify, and discuss/exchange information, experiences, personnel and plan/coordinate cross-border joint actions;
- Strengthen cooperation on research (ecological, epidemiological and socioeconomic studies and evaluations of diagnostic techniques) by participating in the existing networking platforms (e.g. the Global Platform for ASF, the Global ASF Research Alliance (GARA), LinkTADs, etc.) and access the existing expertise of OIE/FAO reference and collaborative centres, e.g. consultations and twinning programmes;
- Raise awareness on disease prevention, recognition and reporting of all stakeholders (i.e. farmers, border control agents and veterinarians, hunters, travelling populations, policy makers, etc.);
- Conduct periodic systematic risk assessments: to estimate hotspots, spreading trends and most likely pathway(s) of ASFV entry into the region;
- Ensure the training and preparedness of field personnel and their coordination with laboratories to ensure a systematic outbreak investigation and a timely and effective flow of samples;
- Participate in proficiency ring tests and field simulation exercises to ensure all countries can react appropriately to ASF;
- All countries to evaluate current preparedness and develop ASF-specific policy (clear SOPs/protocols, and surveillance, early detection/response, and contingency plans). These have to be dynamic documents that get re-assessed and refined regularly for different scenarios;
- When appropriate, coordinate with (and build on) efforts done for other swine disease surveillance, prevention and control strategies, policies and regulations in order to synergize efforts and avoid duplications (such as classical swine fever);
- Specifically address the issues of backyard/low biosecurity pig production and how to conduct suitable, cost-effective and sustainable surveillance, prevention and control activities in these populations. For such purpose it is key to gather some basic information on the populations, dynamics and distributions;
- Specifically address the issues of wild boar and how to conduct suitable, cost-effective and sustainable surveillance, prevention and control activities in these populations. For such purpose it is key to gather some basic information on the populations, dynamics and distributions;
- Ensure and establish wide collaborations with forestry authorities, hunters’ associations and other institutional and non-governmental partners that will play an official role in the surveillance, prevention and control;
- Explore further funding for technical assistance to assess the status of ASF policy in the different countries in the region and fill identified gaps.