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ACT/ Mongolia initiates AMR pilot surveillance study


A first-of-its-kind pilot surveillance study in Mongolia is coming to an end. In October 2023, as part of the FAO-implemented and Republic of Korea-funded Action to support implementation of Codex AMR Texts (ACT) project, a team of researchers from the State Central Veterinary Laboratory (SCVL) in Mongolia collected samples from cattle to look for the presence of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) pathogens. The SCVL undertook this study in response to the recommendations of a Mongolia-hosted mission for the “FAO Assessment Tool for Laboratories and Antimicrobial resistance Surveillance Systems” (FAO ATLASS), which was conducted as part of the ACT project. 

The ATLASS assessors noted that an AMR pilot study would help the food safety laboratories in Mongolia to establish procedures for collecting and testing samples from cattle before they enter the food chain. The practical experience of the pilot study has been invaluable for troubleshooting procedures which were rarely implemented prior to the study.

“Analysts from SCVL undertook the crucial task of collecting samples from healthy cattle arriving at slaughterhouses and conducting laboratory tests by internationally recognized methodologies,” explains Dr Narantuya Ayushjav, General Director, General Authority for Veterinary Services (GAVS) in Mongolia. “A significant milestone has been achieved through the experiential learning gained by laboratory personnel during field surveillance and testing activities. This pilot study is unique in that it is the first initiative and a foundation for active annual surveillance of AMR going forward.”

The field collection team learned how to harvest and transport samples properly to ensure sample quality before being delivered to the diagnostic laboratory. The SCVL personnel subsequently used the field samples to review the procedures for isolating and storing the target bacterial species. The laboratory focused on antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST). In addition to being the most practical and economical method for detecting AMR in bacteria that are central to food safety and animal health, the AST method used is in line with international standards and practices established by the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) and the European Committee for Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (EUCAST).

Food Hygiene Analyst at the SCVL Residue Testing Laboratory, Ms Oyundelger Tsogvoo, says that this pilot was crucial for understanding the importance of AMR testing: “Before this surveillance initiative, our AMR testing efforts were very limited, but now we've gained a wealth of experience and honed our skills significantly. Moving forward, I've learned the importance of careful planning, thorough preparation, and accurate scheduling, including precise laboratory testing,” she says. “My sincere thanks go to the FAO-ACT project team for their invaluable support and contribution.”

SCVL Director Ms Gerelmaa Ulziibat was also impressed by the impact of this pilot. “This AMR pilot surveillance allowed us to train our laboratory staff and veterinarians, building their capacity to implement new techniques, enabling them to enhance their skills through practical experience, continuous learning, and professional growth. Our laboratory staff learned a lot during this field surveillance and AST analysis. We will continue to teach this experience and lessons to the specialists of local veterinary laboratories in the province,” she says.

The real-life experience of the pilot study has enabled field and laboratory personnel to expose potential weaknesses that cannot be identified by AST proficiency testing conducted under controlled conditions. The preliminary results of this study have indicated some unexpected findings that will require further confirmation. Once the SCVL confirms the results, they will represent the first suitable AMR data from the agrifood sector of Mongolia to enter into the International FAO Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring (InFARM) System data platform, paving the way for ongoing surveillance activities.

This exercise is a potent reminder that procedures that look straightforward in theory are not necessarily easy to execute in practice. Additionally collaboration was key to the success of this study. This pilot study was implemented effectively through  close collaboration with colleagues from the AMR laboratories in Mongolia, other AMR projects, especially the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) and the FAO-supported Livestock Commercialization Project (LCP), and external laboratories at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Sustainable expansion of AMR surveillance in Mongolia will rely on continuing fruitful collaborations between these and future partners.

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The ACT project
ACT in Mongolia
MPTF in Mongolia

Photo © Ms. Dulamdorj Suuri