Major outbreak of African Swine Fever threatens food security in Cape Verde

The latest outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the West African island nation of Cape Verde threatens the country's entire pig population, according to a recent FAO report. The disease has been endemically present in at least part of Cape Verde archipelago since 1985 - with peaks of morbidity/mortality twice a year, in spring and winter. However, the latest winter peak seems to be particularly devastating. An FAO Technical Cooperation Project (TCP) for control and eradication of ASF in Cape Verde was approved on 2 April 1998. FAO will contribute US$ 264 000.

Infection with ASF can be caused when animals eat contaminated or infected garbage

An FAO/EMPRES (Emergency Prevention System) Mission (Kris Wojciechowski, FAO Animal Health Officer, and David Nyakahuma, EMPRES Epidemiologist, Accra, Ghana) visited Cape Verde in February 1998. The Mission reported that ASF is widespread in most rural areas of Santiago Island. Information from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MAAE) indicated that ASF may be more widely spread, though this has yet to be confirmed by clinical and epidemiological surveillance.

The FAO/EMPRES mission called for immediate action to contain this epidemic and prevent it from spreading to uninfected zones of Cape Verde and the mainland. Through the TCP, FAO will assist the country to control and, if possible, eradicate ASF by:

  • establishing capabilities for early response to ASF and other transboundary diseases,
  • establishing a coordinated programme for ASF eradication,
  • initiating the ASF eradication campaign in infected areas.

ASF is caused by a particularly resistent virus and is a potentially devastating disease. Very few pigs survive infection and those that do are contagious. ASF is endemically present in wild pigs in southern and eastern Africa in a cycle including infected domestic pigs, soft ticks and wild pigs.

In the different ecosystems of Central and Western African, where soft ticks and wild pigs do not take a primary role, ASF has spread mostly among domestic pigs. In all areas, infection is most common as a result of contact with infected, recovered or carrier pigs and ingestion of contaminated or infected garbage, urine and faeces. In domestic pigs, outbreaks of varying intensity occur in infected countries. Non-indigenous breeds - which are increasingly popular as pig industries develop - are particularly vulnerable. Rapid transport of animals and animal products by road and air, and lack of quarantine, are major factors in the spread of the disease.

As there is no vaccine against ASF, the disease can only be contained by slaughtering infected animals and quarantining those at risk. Transport and trade in diseased pigs must be halted. During the epidemic in Côte d'Ivoire in 1996, some 22 000 pigs died and a further 100 000 were slaughtered in the drive to stamp out the disease.

Of the current emergency in Cape Verde, Yves Cheneau, Chief of FAO's Animal Health Service, said, "To succeed, the containment programme needs to be accompanied by a solid and believable media campaign aimed at all the concerned parties, especially the pig farmers". The cost of compensating farmers for slaughtering their pigs could reach US$3.5 million, according to some estimates. This would not include the cost of interrupted pig breeding cycles and significantly weakened food security.

Cape Verde is a low-income food-deficit country (LIFDC) which means that the rural poor are particularly vulnerable to food shortages. "If the disease spreads throughout the country, almost all the swine population could perish," said Wojciechowski. "This would be a real catastrophe, because pork is a basic element in the food security of the poor segments of the population."

FAO, through its Technical Cooperation Projects (TCPs) assisted Côte d'Ivoire in eradication of the disease in 1996 and has been providing similar emergency assistance on the subject in Benin (since late 1997) and Togo (1998). Assistance for Nigeria is being launched in April 1998. A Regional Project to enhance emergency preparedness for ASF in West Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Senegal) is also starting.

7 April 1998

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