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The epidemic spread of aquatic animal diseases is an increasing event in many parts of the world and many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have, to various degrees, suffered the consequences of such serious disease outbreaks. We have witnessed the devastating impacts of epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS) in freshwater fish during the 1980s and the 1990s, viral encephalopathy and retinopathy (VER) in marine fish since the 1990s, whitespot syndrome virus (WSSV) in penaeid shrimps from the early 1990s, and the emerging Taura syndrome virus (TSV) in Penaeus vannamei. There are still a number of unresolved diseases such as Akoya oyster disease in Japan and abalone mortalities in the People's Republic of China. Since 2002, Indonesia has faced a serious epizootic of Koi herpes virus (KHV), causing large-scale mortalities with significant economic losses among cultured common and koi carp (Cyprinus carpio) populations. More recently, during the last quarter of 2003, an outbreak of KHV also occurred in common and koi carp in Japan.

The above examples demonstrate the vulnerability of aquaculture and wild resource production to wide-scale infectious disease emergencies and the significant impacts that new diseases can have on local economies. Unless appropriate health management and biosecurity measures are continuously put in place and effectively implemented, the risk of major disease incursions and newly emerging diseases will continue to threaten the sector. Past experiences in dealing with disease epizootics can provide useful lessons towards better preparedness for and improved responses to similar events when they occur in the future.

In the case of KHV, the affected species is widely traded within and among countries inside and outside the region creating a considerable risk of spreading KHV with the movements of common and koi carp, a situation that can lead to transboundary epizootics. Common and koi carp are important commodities, as food fish and high-value ornamental fish, respectively. Many rural communities depend on koi and common carp to support their livelihoods, both in Indonesia and in several neighboring countries. Effective prevention and control measures, complemented by improved extension services, educational programmes and capacity building for farmers and producers are essential to reduce the risk of transboundary epizootics. A strong national approach, along with a well-planned regional strategy, is required to ensure that the operational capability is in place to respond effectively to disease emergencies. Equally important is a clear understanding by both government and the private sector of the benefits to be gained from investing and participating in emergency response systems.

It is clear from our knowledge and recent experience that the capacity for early detection and effective response to disease emergencies is inadequate in many countries in Asia due to several factors, such as limited diagnostic capacities, lack of information, insufficient human resources and infrastructure and lack of financial resources. Limited understanding of the gravity of the problem often results in failure to provide priority action at national and regional levels. This urgently needs rectifying in order to avoid further introduction of exotic pathogens and spreading of emerging diseases. KHV is a prime example, requiring immediate attention from relevant international research and development agencies, as well as the private sector. Concerted action is essential for controlling this serious epizootic and to regain both consumer and producer confidence.

In order to review and evaluate the national and regional status of emergency preparedness and response to infectious diseases in aquatic animals and to find avenues for providing guidance and assistance for national and regional improvements, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with the Government of Indonesia, the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) and the WorldFish Center (WFC) organized a workshop entitled “Emergency Preparedness and Response to Aquatic Animal Diseases”. The purpose of the Workshop was to review the regional experiences in responding to disease emergencies, including the work accomplished through an FAO Technical Cooperation Programme project in Indonesia aimed at providing technical assistance to improve national capacity to respond to the ongoing carp disease epizootic. The Workshop was intended to assist Indonesia and other countries in the Asian region to: (i) identify actions to reduce the impacts of KHV on aquaculture and small-scale fisheries; and (ii) strengthen preparedness and response to serious aquatic animal disease emergencies.

The Regional Workshop on Emergency Preparedness and Response to Aquatic Animal Diseases was held from 21–23 September 2004 at the Santika Jakarta Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia. The Workshop was hosted by the Government of Indonesia, under the patronage of the Hon. Minister of Fisheries. Assistance and support for the workshop was provided by the Office International des Épizooties (OIE) Regional Representation for Asia-Pacific (Tokyo), the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), the Norwegian Agency for Development (NORAD), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), the Australian Agency for International Devlopment (AusAID) and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). The 51 participants included experts and policy personnel from the region who are responsible for handling health and disease situations in aquatic and terrestrial environments. It is hoped that the Workshop will prime the concept of emergency preparedness and response among aquatic animal health managers so that future national and regional aquatic production and conservation policy and programme development will take such preparedness plans into consideration.

This document presents the proceedings of the Workshop, including the papers presented, a summary of the Working Group discussions and the resulting recommendations. A separate set of guidelines outlining the procedures for contingency planning, emergency preparedness and response for aquatic animal diseases in developing countries will be published as FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 486, Preparedness and response to aquatic animal health emergencies in Asia: guidelines.

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