Risk analysis is something we all do intuitively in our everyday life and professional activites. Only recently has it developed into a more formal discipline that is used increasingly in many fields of endeavour. In animal health it has perhaps been most widely applied in quarantine. Quarantine risk analyses are used to help determine strategies for quarantine operations and appropriate health conditions for imported animals and animal products.
Risk analysis is a tool that can be advantageously used in animal disease emergency preparedness planning. In this context, it is most readily applied to preparedness planning for exotic diseases or exotic strains of endemic disease agents. There is no reason, however, why it could not be applied for other animal health emergency planning.
Risk analysis comprises three components. These are risk assessment, risk management and risk communication.
In this component, the risks of an event occurring or of a particular course of action are first identified and described. The likelihood of those risks occurring is then estimated. The potential consequences of the risks are evaluated and used to modify the assessment of the risk. For example, an exotic disease with a high risk of entry to a country would get a low overall score on a risk assessment if there were only a low risk of its becoming established or only minor potential socio-economic consequences for the country. Conversely, a low risk of introduction but high consequent disease would be rated higher.
The assessment of risks can be done in a quantified, semi-quantified or qualitative way. It is inherently difficult to quantify or put probability numbers to risk in many biological systems, because of the lack of historical precedents and serious gaps in available biological data. It is recommended that qualitative risk assessments be used for exotic diseases. The risks can be described as extreme, high, medium or low, or scored on a simple scale of, for example, 1–5 for the level of risk and 1–5 for the level of potential consequences.
This is the process of identifying, documenting and implementing measures to reduce the risks and their consequences. Risk can never be completely eliminated. The aim is to adopt procedures that will reduce the level of risk to what is deemed to be an acceptable level.
In fact, the whole of this manual could be regarded as providing the risk management framework for ASF contingency planning.
This is the process of exchange of information and opinions on risk between risk analysts and stakeholders. Stakeholders in this context include all those who could be affected by the consequences of the risks, everyone from farmers to politicians. It is important that risk assessment and risk-management strategies be fully discussed with such people, so that they feel assured that no unnecessary risks are being taken and that the risk-management costs are a worthwhile insurance policy.
To ensure ownership of decisions, risk analysts and decision-makers should consult with stakeholders throughout the process of risk analysis so that risk-management strategies address stakeholder concerns and decisions are fully understood and supported.
The risk-assessment component would best be carried out by the epidemiological unit in the national veterinary headquarters as part of the national early-warning system for TADs and other emergency diseases. Risk management and risk communication are tasks for everyone but they should be coordinated by the chief veterinary officer (CVO).
It should be remembered that risks do not remain static. They will change with such factors as evolution and spread of epidemic livestock diseases internationally, emergence of new diseases, changing international trading patterns for the country and so on. Risk analysis should not be seen as a once-only activity. It should be repeated and updated regularly.
As described above, risk assessment consists of identifying the risks, assessing the likelihood of them being realized and modifying them by evaluation of their potential consequences.
The international status and evolution of outbreaks of ASF and other important TADs as well as the latest scientific findings should be constantly monitored. This should be a routine function of the epidemiological unit of the national veterinary services. Apart from the scientific literature, the most valuable source of information would be from OIE, through publications such as their weekly disease reports and annual World animal health and by interrogation of the OIE Handistatus database. Disease intelligence is also available from FAO, including the EMPRES Transboundary animal diseases bulletin, which is published quarterly and is available at http://www.fao.org/empres on the Internet.
The Internet server and mailing service Promed currently provides a useful forum for rapid dissemination of official and unofficial information on animal, plant and human disease occurrences around the world. Animal Health Net is another useful source of information.
Having identified and listed the exotic disease threats, the next step is to assess the seriousness of the threat of entry of each disease to the country and the routes and mechanisms by which it may enter. There are various factors to be taken into account.
The next step is to evaluate how serious the socio-economic consequences might be if there is an incursion of the disease. Again there are various factors to be considered.
Addressing these questions and issues will enable analysts to build up a risk profile for ASF and make judgements in qualitative terms as to the magnitude of the risk presented by the disease. Most important, it will be possible to get an idea of how ASF ranks in relation to other high-priority disease risks and what resources should be devoted to preparedness for ASF in comparison with other diseases. It will also be possible to get some idea of where the pressure points may be for entry of the diseases and how veterinary services and contingency planning for ASF may need to be strengthened.
The type of risk assessment that has been described will be of value for: