Preventative medicine: dealing with aquatic animal diseases in Asia
Animal diseases can jump political boundaries with ease - even underwater ones
27 September 2004, Rome - Following outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease and Avian Flu in recent years, the world has become all too familiar with the threats associated with animal diseases.
But in addition to the human health risks which can be posed by some animal illnesses, such outbreaks can cripple food production sectors on a region-wide scale, leaving thousands of farmers and producers without sustenance or income.
In Asia, where millions of people depend either on fishing or fish farming, or both, for their livelihoods, the battle against transboundary animal disease has an additional dimension: an aquatic one.
"Fish don't have passports," explains Rohana Subasinghe, a Senior Fisheries Resources Officer with FAO's Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service. "A sick fish can cross national boundaries with a flip of its tail, and then potentially have a region-wide problem on your hands."
Indeed, across the Asian region, flare-ups of aquatic animal diseases are becoming increasingly common.
During the 1980s and 1990s, a disease known as Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome took a heavy toll on freshwater fish farms.
Viral Nervous Necrosis has been a problem for wild marine fish since the 1990s. During the same period, White Spot Disease (WSD)has been hitting the economically-crucial shrimp farming sector and, more recently, Taura Syndrome Virus has emerged as a threat.
In China and Japan, abalone and oyster production regularly feel the impacts of various illnesses.
While most of these diseases do not have any human health implications, millions of people make their living raising and selling the fish they affect.
"In some countries, there were cases of farmers committing suicide because of the serious losses due to outbreaks of White Spot Disease in shrimp," says Professor Mohamed Shariff, a fish pathologist at the Universiti Putra Malaysia who frequently collaborates with FAO on improving management of aquatic animal diseases in Asia.
"The disease caused 100 percent mortality within a week, and farmers lost their entire crop," he says. "Many were near harvest period, and harvests could have fetched US$40 000 per hectare. If a farmer had 20 to 30 ponds, imagine the losses."
According to Professor Shariff, Asia needs not only financial support to boost its ability to manage aquatic animal diseases, but technical guidance as well.
FAO is helping to meet these needs, working in the region to provide technical know-how and expert advice so countries can improve farming practices to reduce the likelihood of disease occurrences, effectively monitor and detect problems ahead of time, and implement appropriate biosecurity measures when outbreaks do occur.
To learn more about this work, read the related stories linked at the right or follow the link below.
Information Officer, FAO
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