16 April 2014 - On 18 February 2014 the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) reported a significant outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) in 17 pig farms in the Pyongyang area. As a result hundreds of pigs had to be sacrificed, and thousands were affected. The Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) of DPRK requested emergency assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to increase the national ability for disease diagnosis and control.
In mid-March, another outbreak in the Cholwen area affected draught cattle. On 14 March 2014 a team from the Emergency Prevention System for Animal Health (EMPRES-AH) at FAO led a week-long mission to DPRK to support the Government's response to FMD outbreaks. The team firstly assessed the FMD outbreaks and reviewed the control measures and diagnostic procedures taken by DPRK authorities in order to provide advice on how to improve these measures and laboratory procedures. With regard to policy, FAO advised on preparedness, response and contingency plans including awareness, early detection, diagnostic capabilities and appropriate risk reduction measures to better control the disease. In view of a more sustainable approach to FMD outbreaks in the future, FAO will assist the Government of DPRK to develop an action plan for managing short- and medium-term control measures.
This last objective will provide the DPRK Government with the necessary tools to control such outbreaks autonomously in the future. The cause of the outbreak remains unclear although low biosecurity levels may have contributed to the resurgence of the disease since the last outbreak in 2011. Furthermore, limited means, including inadequate equipment (i.e. boots, soap, tap water and disposable clothing) and a lack of active surveillance data since 2011 delayed the potential of a rapid and efficient response to the outbreak.
While it was possible to ascertain the clinical diagnosis, the national reference laboratories are not equipped for a laboratory diagnosis of the disease. The virus typing needs to be done in an international reference laboratory, for which FAO provided sample collection and shipping materials. Further study of the virus strain is also necessary to support efficient vaccination because the vaccine is strain specific.
While the country currently lacks available vaccine to prevent the disease, OIE will provide some from its vaccine bank. The FAO team advised to use the limited stock in Cholwen for the recent outbreak in draught cattle. Goats, which are an important source of protein in rural areas, can also be affected by FMD and need to be monitored for the disease.
The FAO team discussed an action plan with the DPRK CVO and his staff, advising on the need to: i) implement control and surveillance guidelines detailed in 2011 to isolate farms and stop all traffic of animals and animal products in larger areas; ii) continue to raise awareness and promote early detection; iii) maintain isolation measures in pig farms for two to four months after the last FMD signs have been observed; iv) collect more samples and dispatch as soon as possible for test and analysis; and v) implement strategic vaccination in the event of more vaccine becoming available in the future.
In the immediate future, the FAO team recommended that the Government of DPRK protect those parts of the country that are still FMD-free and "freeze" the FMD situation within clusters for at least three months. This can be done through prohibiting the movement of live animals, except for those destined for direct slaughter, and raising awareness of FMD and basic biosecurity amongst farm workers. Obtaining more epidemiological information and keeping records of all events with possible epidemiological significance on industrial pig farms are also key to increasing knowledge on how to combat the disease more effectively during a potential future outbreak.
In the mid- to long-term, FAO recommended that if more vaccine becomes available, the Government of DPRK develop a strategic vaccination plan targeting the most vulnerable and valuable sub-sectors, particularly draught animals. In order to gain information on regional diseases and the control measures implemented by neighbouring countries FAO also recommended that the Government of DPRK participate as observer in the Southeast Asia and China FMD campaign. As a result of this mission, FAO is considering a new emergency Technical Cooperation Project (TCP) to enhance laboratory, biosecurity and epidemiological capacities in DPRK.