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FAO intensifies the response capacity to African swine fever

Calling for the improvement of surveillance and control in West and Central Africa

©FAO/Sergei Gapon

1 November 2019, Accra — With Africa Swine Fever’s notorious reputation for its high rate of morbidity and mortality, preventing and responding efficiently is crucial in controlling this endemic disease.

To assist the regions as well as to increase the response capacity to control this important endemic disease, the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) held a regional coordination meeting for the improvement of African Swine Fever (ASF) surveillance and control in West and Central Africa (WCA) from 7 to 9 October 2019.

The three-day meeting gathered Chief Veterinary Officers (CVO) and relevant pig sector actors in the region from the following 12 countries in West and Central Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, the Assistant Director General and FAO Regional Representative for FAO, in his opening remarks pledged FAO’s commitment to continue assisting Member Countries in tackling ASF. He emphasized the “importance of improving surveillance for the effective control and prevention of ASF in the West and Central Africa sub-region” and reiterated FAO’s continuous commitment to work with all relevant partners in the fight against all trans-boundary animal diseases and especially ASF.

In his welcome remarks, Hayford Asiedu-Baah, Chief Veterinary Officer of Ghana, gave an overview of the ASF disease underscoring the negative impacts it has on animal welfare, health and human livelihoods. In his intervention speech, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) regional representative for Africa made similar remarks while highlighting the OIE’s commitment to support initiatives controlling ASF across the globe, including Africa.

Improving coordination along regional coordination mechanisms and networks

The regional coordination meeting also addressed the assessment of progress and gaps of each country along the regional strategy for the control of African swine fever in Africa adopted in 2017 and the strengthening of surveillance, diagnostic and control capacities. Furthermore, participants shared comprehensive recommendations of the involved countries on how best to respond to ASF  challenges associated with growing and changing livestock systems improve cross-border and regional coordination in terms of monitoring, control and sharing of animal health information, comply with reporting obligations for the benefit of the region, report disease in a timely manner and preparation of African swine fever contingency plans.

Although early detection is key in preventing and containing the spread of the disease, strict border control will help lessen the chances of ASF being introduced. Preventing illegal movement of live pigs and destroying pig products at country entry points can prevent introduction of the virus. Raising awareness among farmers and the general public through outreach and risk communication is also important to reduce the risk of disease spread, since the main risk of spread lies in human actions (how pigs are raised and transported, how waste is handled, etc.).

At the end of this ASF coordination meeting, participants concluded that the international and regional institution (FAO, OIE, ECOWAS, etc) should support countries to establish effective ASF coordination mechanism in the West and Central Africa region through the provision of technical expertise and reinforcement of national epidemio-surveillance and laboratory sub-network, coordination mechanisms among veterinary training institutions and helping countries develop ASF consistent and factual contingency plans. Advocacy is also part of the meeting recommendations to have national governments embrace the OIE pathway to strengthen their national veterinary services and to assist countries in the allocation of funding training needs at country level

With FAO support, this initiative meets the need to build the capacity to empower regional alliances in the fight against African swine fever and to assist in establishing national programmes for the specific control of the disease based on regional priorities.

Africa Swine Fever and Africa

 The pig sector is central to the livelihood of rural Africa and is strategically important to the continent’s food and nutritional security. Together with poultry, it is one of the fastest growing livestock sectors in Africa, and this trend is expected to continue over the coming years. Unfortunately, the expanding pig production sector is facing diverse challenges. Poor genetics, inadequate feeding, health constraints and especially African swine fever and poor husbandry practices are the major challenges to the development of the pig sector in Africa.

The occurrence of African swine fever was reported in almost half of the pig producing countries on the African continent in 2012. This transboundary animal disease poses a serious negative impact on production and productivity and thus affecting national economies and social structures of the pig producing countries. The virus can have devastating socio-economic consequences which could lead to food insecurity. Some farmers may lose entire herds of pigs and compensation is not always provided. This can lead to a reluctance in reporting of ASF clinical signs to veterinary services. A country’s trade may be impacted which could also have an effect on the cost of pork and pork products.

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