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UN FAO convenes emergency meeting of animal health experts in Asia in response to African Swine Fever threat

06/09/2018 Bangkok, Thailand

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has opened a three-day emergency meeting to examine the most recent developments in China following the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the country, and propose a regional response to the threat that ASF could spread to other countries in Asia.

The specialists – veterinary epidemiologists, and laboratory experts – as well as other senior technical staff, directly involved with regulatory aspects of disease prevention and control planning, are drawn from ten countries with geographical proximity to China, and perceived to be at risk of a transboundary spread of ASF. The participants are from Cambodia, China, Japan, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Experts from outside of the region will also attend as will participants from the private commercial swine sector.

Outbreaks of African Swine Fever have occurred in Europe and the Americas as early as the 1950’s and through the 1980’s. However, in 2007, a new introduction of ASF occurred in the Republic of Georgia, which then spread to neighboring countries and deeply affected Eastern Europe. 

African Swine Fever new to Asia – and a significant threat

In Asia, ASF was first detected at a pig farm in the Siberian region of the Russian Federation in March 2017.  In China, the virus was discovered in the country’s northeast at the beginning of August this year. Since then, five additional cases have been reported in other areas of China as much as one thousand kilometers apart.

China produces more than half of the world’s pigs and, while it poses no direct threat to human health, ASF can devastate the swine population. In its most virulent form, it is 100 percent fatal to the animals who contract the virus. To contain its spread within China, the authorities have culled as many 40,000 pigs so far. Representatives from China will update the meeting on the latest numbers and actions being undertaken within the country. 

Calls for a coordinated regional response in East and Southeast Asia

“It’s critical that this region be ready for the very real possibility that ASF could jump the border into other countries,” said Wantanee Kalpravidh, Regional Manager of the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Asia. “That’s why this emergency meeting has been convened – to assess where we are now – and to determine how we can work together in a coordinated, regional response to this serious situation.”

In order to reach a consensus on the way forward, this emergency meeting will also review recent research studies and technologies and consider lessons from the most recent and ongoing episodes of ASF in Europe in the aftermath of its introduction since 2007. Representatives from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) will also participate.

“It’s very important to understand how this virus has spread, historically, within the pig and wild boar populations in other regions of the world, so that we can adapt and tailor appropriate responses and determine the correct course of action needed here in this region,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “Perhaps more critical in terms of risk is the likely role of pork and pork product traffic through production and market chains – whether fresh or cured commodities” he added.

“The fact this emergency meeting of experts from Asia and beyond has convened as quickly as it has is emblematic of the concern our member countries have over this outbreak, and the very real threat it poses to their livestock, their national food security and the livelihoods of millions of people along that value chain,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “FAO will continue to support this response in every way we can.”

The emergency meeting will conclude on Friday with the establishment of a regional stakeholder network with defined roles and responsibilities. It’s expected that the teams will identify and prioritize the actions that are required for countries to take in the short, medium and longer term.

While this meeting is convened by invitation only, media requests for individual interviews may be sent to the contacts indicated.

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