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Preparedness is key
"All of the examples of aquatic animal disease outbreaks in Asia demonstrate the vulnerability of aquaculture and capture fisheries in the region to infectious disease emergencies, and underscore the significant impacts which new diseases can have on local economies," says Mr. Subasinghe.

The first line of defense, he says, are measures that prevent diseases from cropping up in the first place -- for example properly managing fish farms and responsibly introducing imported fish species. The second tier is making sure that countries are prepared to respond promptly and effectively when they do occur.

FAO working to build capacity in monitoring and managing outbreaks

In Indonesia, FAO responded to the 2002 KHV crisis with a technical cooperation project aimed at boosting that country's capacity to manage animal health in its aquaculture sector.

Last week, FAO's fisheries department followed up on that work by holding a workshop in Jakarta aimed at establishing a region-wide strategy for monitoring aquatic animal diseases and for mobilizing coordinated responses when they occur.

"We brought a range of people to the table -- experts, national veterinary officials, fish farmers, policymakers -- to discuss the risks, how countries have been managing them so far, and what can be done to improve responses to outbreaks," Mr Subasinghe says.

Another FAO unit, EMPRES -- the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases, which focuses on the control of animal diseases like rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease, and avian flu, helping governments coordinate responses -- participated in the session.

"We've been helping countries prevent, prepare for, and respond to animal disease outbreaks when they occur on land for a long time now," says Juan Lubroth, head of the EMPRES program at FAO. "This workshop let us to bring that experience to the table to help countries in the Asian region build their capacities to manage aquatic animal diseases in a similar fashion."

Also collaborating with FAO on last week's workshop were the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific, the WorldFish Center, and the fisheries departments of Indonesia and Malaysia.

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Preventative medicine: dealing with aquatic animal diseases in Asia

A new aquatic disease is affecting a fish that for millions of people in Asia is an economic and dietary mainstay

Preparedness is key

FAO/20618/P. Lowrey

Countries in Asia lack the resources, expertise and infrastructure for monitoring and responding to outbreaks of aquatic animal diseases.

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