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ASF ‘settles in Asia’

TARLAKENYO (Apr. 30, 2023) — Southeast Asia is making preparations for a protracted battle against African swine fever (ASF), a highly contagious and fatal disease that first reached China in 2018 and has since spread southward, posing a threat to both domestic and wild pigs.

Initially, plans to eradicate the disease through large-scale pig euthanasia were deemed impractical from economic, logistical, and political standpoints. As a result, authorities in the region have come to the realization that they need to learn to coexist with the virus, as stated by Dirk Pfeiffer, a veterinary epidemiologist at the City University of Hong Kong.

The emerging strategy revolves around strengthening biosecurity measures at numerous small farms. This involves isolating domestic pigs from wild and roaming swine, enhancing sanitation practices, and eliminating pork scraps from animal feed.

Experts believe that such modest steps would be most effective if implemented as part of a coordinated regional approach. Since this disease does not respect borders, Karma Rinzin, a veterinary epidemiologist at the World Organisation for Animal Health, along with other specialists, will convene at a meeting in Manila, Philippines, from May 2 to 4. The meeting is sponsored by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aims to establish a multinational strategy.

ASF poses no harm to humans but causes high fever, internal bleeding, and fluid-filled lungs in pigs, resulting in the death of up to 90% of infected animals. While the disease is endemic in much of Africa, it spread to Western Europe in the late 1950s but was successfully eliminated by the mid-1990s. A second introduction from Africa occurred in Georgia in 2007, and the virus gradually made its way eastward, eventually reaching China in August 2018.

Yooni Oh, the regional ASF program coordinator for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), states that ASF is now widespread throughout Southeast Asia. In addition to disrupting farming operations, conservation scientists are concerned that the virus will further endanger some already threatened and endangered wild pig species.

Last year, the FAO conducted tests on 20 farms in Sagcungan, a village on Mindanao Island in the Philippines.

These tests cost around $325 per farm and involve implementing various measures to prevent ASF.

The outcome of the project led to a significant change in farmers’ attitudes, according to Samuel Castro, the deputy head of the Philippines’ ASF prevention and control program. Notably, despite an ASF outbreak occurring in a nearby village, the farms in Sagcungan remained unaffected. As a result, the Philippines is expanding these efforts to other areas, and the FAO plans to launch similar pilot projects in other countries.

During the meeting in Manila, ASEAN countries will discuss several topics, including the timely sharing of information, funding for biosecurity improvements on small farms, and monitoring emerging viral variants.

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