27 January 2014 - African Swine Fever (ASF) has become endemic throughout the Caucasus and the Russian Federation since 2007. Recent developments in Eastern Europe, including the incursion of the disease in Belarus, Ukraine and most recently Lithuania, indicate that a further geographic spread of ASF is likely to occur. ASF is also endemic in areas of Africa. Although it has never affected Southeast Asia, the potential spread of the disease from the Russian Federation to China could result in vast losses, with China holding 50 per cent of the world's pig population. This fatal disease, for which there still is no vaccine or specific treatment, has a very high mortality and morbidity rate, with devastating economic consequences on small-scale pig farmers.
One of the principal ways in which to combat the infection is through imparting good rearing practices as well as training veterinarians to control and prevent the disease from spreading. As part of the Global Framework for Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the OIE and the financial support of the Government of Italy, Ministry of Health, and USDA, organized a training session in November 2013 to improve regional veterinary services in the Balkans and the Caucasus. Participants from Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine were invited for five days to the laboratories of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell'Umbria e Marche (IZS-UM) in Perugia, Italy.
The IZS-UM is a national ASF Reference Centre and it is equipped with Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facilities. During the training, the participants learned to recognize the clinical symptoms and anatomic lesions on experimentally-infected pigs through post-mortem examinations. They also learned basic concepts of epidemiology and were given tools to prevent and control the spread of ASF. One of the important aspects of the training concerned biosecure sampling, packaging and dispatching of infected material to a national or international ASF Reference Centre. The training also covered biosecurity measures, pathological findings, outbreak investigation techniques and differential diagnosis with other relevant swine diseases.
Attention was drawn to the need for adoption of biosecurity measures by pig farmers, which constitutes a major aspect to preventing the spread of ASF. The training was envisaged as a 'training of the trainers': once the participants returned to their countries, they would train field veterinarians in the prevention and biosecurity methods acquired at the IZS-UM. According to participant feedback, the training was highly successful. It now forms a framework that FAO will seek to promote in the future for other regional veterinary services in order to better prevent the spread of this deadly disease and its consequent heavy economic losses for pig farmers.