FAO Regional Office for Africa

FAO launches online course on African swine fever to capacitate veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals in southern Africa

Pig deaths during an African swine fever outbreak @FAO/Mary-Louise Penrith

HARARE, 21 September 2021 - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) virtually launched a new online course on Africa swine fever (ASF) during a webinar held on 9 September 2021. African swine fever is a viral disease of domestic pigs and wild boar with a fatality rate of up to 100 percent that leads to huge economic losses, trade disruptions, and challenges to livelihoods of smallholder pig keepers. Only members of the pig family (Suidae) are susceptible to infection with the ASF virus and the warthog is the reservoir of infection in the wild. Hosted by FAO Virtual Learning Centre for Southern Africa (SFS-VLC), the course was developed through a joint collaboration between the SFS-VLC and the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia.  

“This course aims to build the capacity to recognize, diagnose and control outbreaks of ASF within the context of the production systems, risk factors and response options peculiar to Southern Africa. In this regard, we thank colleagues in the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia for providing the initial version of the course that has undergone extensive adaptation and review to suit the local context through the assistance of an ASF expert from the southern Africa region,” said Jean-Claude Urvoy speaking on behalf of Patrice Talla, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa during the webinar. The webinar was attended by representatives of FAO, the SADC Secretariat, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and other key stakeholders in the livestock sector.

Creating tailor-made solutions for African swine fever

 “While there is some understanding of the differences in suitable control approaches for high and lower income countries, the conventional measure of killing all the pigs, paying compensation and starting over is still seen as first prize, yet many of the countries that apply it have failed to eradicate ASF. The objective of this online course is, therefore, to capacitate veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals to tailor-make solutions for managing ASF in Southern Africa,” said Mary-Louise Penrith, the ASF regional expert who is the lead trainer in the course.  

“The need to involve the pig farmers themselves, as well as all the actors in pig value chains, in preventive and control measures that they understand and find to be feasible, cannot be over-emphasized,” added Mary-Louise Penrith.

In spite of the unique epidemiological features of ASF in the region, the disease is dominated by a domestic pig cycle that is driven by socio-economic factors, mainly poverty, that are beyond the scope of veterinarians to resolve, and therefore a strongly multi-disciplinary approach is needed for success in managing ASF.

“The decentralized approach of establishing VLCs in the regions ensures that trainings are tailored to the specific regional needs, and adapted to the local context and languages. On the other side, FAO coordination of the different VLCs ensures that different courses and good practices can easily be shared across regions of the world,” said Keith Sumption, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer and Leader of Animal Health Programme.

“There has been an overwhelming response to the call for ASF course nominations, submissions coming from Chief Veterinary Officers and from independent applications. Over 500 participants from fifteen countries have applied, this is evidence of both a good choice of course and acceptance of virtual training in the region,” added Keith Sumption.

The course combines a convenient self-paced study with a unique opportunity to discuss and network with international experts and regional colleagues in an online discussion forum. It is in the online discussion forum that participants share knowledge on the different concepts of the training under the guidance of trainers, linking this knowledge with observations in their home countries to come up with local solutions aiming to reduce the threat of ASF.

More online courses will be developed and delivered going forward; covering multiple topics that are relevant to FAO’s objectives and informed through a training needs assessment in the region. Opportunities exist for partnerships to cascade the training at country level. This will require additional resources to translate the materials to the other languages spoken in the region, namely, Portuguese and French.