Domoguen: Battling ASF in the Philippines

Mountain Light

THE Bloomberg report about a vaccine developed by American scientists against African swine fever (ASF) was a blast of light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

Discovered more than 100 years ago, the ASF is a severe viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.

There is no approved or commercially available vaccine against the disease, unlike classical swine fever (Hog Cholera) which is caused by a different virus.

From south-eastern Africa, the ASF virus spread through the transport of contaminated pork towards Eastern Europe.

Beginning in 2007, the virus spread to a large part of Georgia and the surrounding regions of Abkhazia and Armenia. It soon reached Russia, and across Asia including Vietnam, South Korea, and China.

In its most virulent form (100 percent lethal), the disease is responsible for wiping out millions of pigs around the globe.

The developed ASF vaccine in the USA is a "huge milestone," but further clinical and field tests need to be done said Professor Eric Fevre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool to determine if it is safe and be able to get over regulatory approval in the countries where it needs to be used.

Until effective vaccines are developed and made commercially available, swine producing nations, like the Philippines must continue working on their quarantine and biosecurity measures to manage and prevent the spread of the disease.

To the country's swine industry stakeholders, the message from the DA is clear. "Prevention is the best medicine."

Biosecurity is all about keeping pests and diseases out of the farm (external biosecurity) and stopping shedding of what is already present inside the farm (internal biosecurity) to other areas.

Hog raisers must be educated on these measures to keep their farms clean from infection and to prevent other farms from being contaminated from diseases coming from their own farms.

This must be fully internalized not only by hog raisers but everybody involved in making governance effectively serve and protect the country's hog-raising industry, which is valued at P200 billion.

Since the Department of Agriculture confirmed the first ASF outbreak in the Philippines last July 25, 2019, I have been following Secretary Dar's ASF reports on his Facebook page.

From the reports, even a layman can understand how the disease was

spread causing multiple productions and economic problems in affected areas of the nation.

This transboundary animal disease (TAD) was spread around the archipelago through contaminated live pigs and processed pork products.

Transmissions also occurred when pigs share contaminated feeds in their pig pens. Contaminated feeds were mostly swill from restaurants and hotels.

People visiting contaminated farms can spread ASF through their shoes, clothes, vehicles, equipment, etc., because of the high environmental resistance of the virus.

In the Cordillera, a swine raiser in Benguet Province ordered piglets from the lowlands online. The pigs were transported to the raiser on a private van and evaded quarantine procedures.

Elsewhere in Tabuk City, and Tanudan, Kalinga province, which are the latest ASF hot spot in the region, dead pigs were not properly disposed of, cultural practices, and unhealthy pig raising practices contributed to the spread of the disease. These must be checked along with the establishment and strict enforcement of quarantine procedures to ensure that the City and the Province will be cleaned of ASF, and therefore, not become a future and continuing source of ASF pathogens for the nearby provinces.

In the ongoing fight against the ASF virus, LGUs, in partnership with industry stakeholders, can protect and strengthen their quarantine ordinances and procedures to protect local hog industries. They need not necessarily ban or stop the free flow and conduct of legitimate transboundary commerce within their territories.

Quarantine must be taken seriously, as the first line of defense not only against the ASF virus but all the other pests and diseases that can affect existing local livestock populations and industries.

At the farm level, farmers must be educated about their livestock, pest and diseases, cleanliness, and proper management practices. In managing their livestock, they must be closely monitored, mentored, and supervised by veterinarians (both from the private and government sectors), to enforce quarantine procedures and protocols in case of an outbreak.

Following protocols, farmers, even veterinarians from our local government units and the private sector do not have the capability to declare a disease outbreak on their own. They do not have the laboratories to confirm the physical and clinical diagnosis of a disease affecting livestock. Their expertise and vigorous coordination with the DA Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and Bureau of Animal Industry Laboratory is needed to realize this.

When an area is declared as a disease hotspot, all swine within the 1-kilometer area from ground zero (where the ASF was discovered) will have to be culled following the DA's 1-7-10 protocol.

Technically, only the DA Secretary can declare that an area is ASF infected and/or cleaned of the virus.

To ensure that he is able to do this, Secretary Dar has issued operational guidelines to follow and to be enforced or pursued by the Bureau of Animal Industry and all DA Regional Offices on the detection, quarantine, containment, and cleaning of the virus, until they are ready to recommend that an infected area will be declared ASF-free.

The work requires constant surveillance, coordination, consultation, and cooperation. This is done in partnership with the local government units and farming communities.

According to Secretary Dar "everyone's help is needed to help control the spread of ASF in the country." Any contaminated product coming in our seaports and airports can cause an outbreak. The help of the Department of Transportation and Philippine National Police can strengthen quarantine in these entry points.

The virus will remain or keep re-appearing in the country for as long as hog raisers and the nation as a whole will not cooperate in our campaign against ASF, Dr. Dar said, adding that the Office of the President has already directed all executive departments, bureaus, agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations, government financial institutions and other instrumentalities of the government to coordinate, as well as to adopt policies and institute measures to manage, contain and control the ASF transmission in the country. Let us keep learning about ASF and how we can help control its spread in our communities.


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