FAO responds to outbreak of swine fever in Benin

Government sources in the West African country of Benin said in mid-September that 2 700 pigs have died in an outbreak of swine fever that surfaced during August in the country's Atlantique and Oueme provinces. FAO's Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) immediately called for an emergency assessment mission to define the nature of the outbreak and draw up a plan of action to control and eliminate the disease as soon as possible.

Benin: areas where the swine fever epidemic has been reported. The city of Cotonou is a focus with most centres of infection being within a 30 km radius, many of them on the banks of Lake Nokoué

The Benin authorities have reported this epidemic to the OIE (International Office of Epizootics) as classical swine fever, but experts fear that the disease could prove to be African Swine Fever (ASF). There is no vaccine against ASF. The disease can only be controlled by a combination of slaughtering, quarantine and movement limitation. An epidemic that broke out in April 1996 in Côte d'Ivoire - where the disease was previously unknown - devastated the country's pork industry. Some 22 000 pigs died of the disease and a further 100 000 were slaughtered in the effort to stamp out the epidemic. All sales of pork were halted in May 1996 and the government only gave the all-clear to resume trading in early 1997. The total cost of the epidemic was US$18 million.

Some 60 percent of the population of Benin depends entirely on agriculture for its livelihood and Benin's 600 000 pigs play a vital role in income generation and national food security. In Benin, as in Côte d'Ivoire, pigs are bred in three settings - intensively on large-scale commercial pig farms stocked with improved breeds, in low-input/low-output backyard production units in outlying areas of towns and cities and in rural areas, and in villages where they run wild. Commercial pig farmers suffer devastating losses in such epidemics, as do those with pigs in their backyards, between which the disease spreads rapidly.

Dr George Nassara, a senior official in the Benin Government Stock Breeding Department told Reuters that the fatality rate among infected pigs appears to be 100 percent. He said that efforts to control the disease were being hampered by "clandestine trade" in infected pigs and failure to dispose of infected carcasses safely. Nassara was also concerned that the epidemic could spread beyond the southern provinces where it has now been identified. FAO Animal Health Officer for Infectious Disease Emergencies, Dr Peter Roeder, said that the risk of the disease spreading to neighbouring Nigeria and Togo was also extremely high.

FAO's first priority has been to get an epidemic disease control consultant out to the country as quickly as possible. A Tunisian expert in epidemic disease control who also worked in Côte d'Ivoire was expected to undertake a mission before the end of September. His first task will be to identify the strain of the disease, how far it has already spread and what the risks of further spread are. Samples must be taken from infected animals and submitted to an international reference laboratory for diagnosis. Control measures being implemented by the government will be assessed and immediate actions necessary to stamp out the disease must be identified. This first mission is being jointly organized by EMPRES and OIE who are underwriting the cost.

Roeder stressed that the current outbreak in Benin underlines the need for emergency preparedness on the part of countries. "It is vitally important that countries are able to recognize at the earliest stages when such epidemics are evolving and are prepared to react quickly", he said. "Even a short delay of a few weeks can make the difference between rapid elimination of disease and a protracted and costly epidemic". Following a regional workshop in Abidjan on the subject in March 1997, a project is being drawn up to work with West African countries on emergency preparedness and contingency planning for control of ASF and other transboundary diseases.

26 September 1997

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