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South Asian countries to strengthen surveillance and epidemiology capacity in response to transboundary and other animal diseases

04/10/2018 Bangkok, Thailand

When domestic livestock are struck down by transmissible zoonotic diseases the results can be catastrophic for smallholders in Asia and the Pacific but countries in South Asia are taking steps to improve their responses, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said today.

Member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have identified foot and mouth disease (FMD), Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and rabies as regional priorities for which there must be better responses. They consider these, and other zoonotic diseases, as constant threats to the region’s economic growth, considered one of the fastest in the world.

Livestock diseases impact most on South Asia’s poor 

With some 600 million poor people, (44 percent of the developing world’s poor), high impact transboundary animal diseases (TAD) such as African Swine Fever, first detected in China last August, and zoonotic diseases continue to threaten South Asian countries.  

“We acknowledge the enormous negative impact of TAD and zoonotic diseases on the livelihoods of people, especially, rural poor and smallholder farmers, and their food security,” SAARC Director Ishrat Jahan said.

Most South Asian countries are undergoing rapid economic growth and trade, particularly on livestock and its products, and with the region’s growing population, pressure on agricultural production and demand is increasing rapidly. To protect the region’s potential economic and social gains, FAO, in collaboration with the SAARC Secretariat, are this week working to strengthen surveillance and epidemiological capacity in South Asia.

Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Regional Manager for Asia-Pacific, Wantanee Kalpravidh, and the SAARC Director, have together emphasized that while countries need to build capacity they must also ensure their efforts are sustainable. 

“SAARC has initiated its own TAD campaigns and collaborative activities and is stressing the necessity for well-coordinated, sustainable and harmonized mechanisms for eradication of any TAD in South Asia,” said SAARC’s Jahan.

Strengthening surveillance

Veterinary laboratories and epidemiology play a critical role in contributing to animal disease surveillance to enable early disease detection and characterization for effective disease control. With this in mind, FAO is supporting SAARC Member States in capacity building of laboratories, epidemiological competency and critical mass of specialists belonging to global, regional and national networks. 

Some of these regional efforts include the establishment of an Epidemiology Network (EpiNet) Forum. The EpiNet Forum supports animal disease control and eradication strategy through sharing of disease information, trainings of epidemiologists in the region to support risk assessment, surveillance and outbreak investigation.

FAO and SAARC member states are working for the development and operationalization of the regional frameworks and roadmaps for laboratory and epidemiology capacity strengthening, as well as identifying key elements for harmonized surveillance approaches for TAD and zoonoses.

“When we talk about ensuring public health safety, we should also ensure that food safety and food security is assured thus animal health should be protected,” Kalpravidh told participants at the start of a series of workshops in Bangkok. She emphasized that the region needs to align national, regional and global frameworks such as the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA)

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Republic of Korea and the Skoll Global Threats Fund are instrumental in supporting activities in South Asia as a part of their commitment to address TADs globally.

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