The 14th meeting of the Standing Group of Experts on African swine fever in Europe was recently held in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The impact of the current global African swine fever crisis is a major concern to the swine industry, putting the livelihood of many smallholders at stake and destabilizing the global market of pork products. In the World Organisation for Animal Health Europe region the African swine fever virus was introduced to Georgia in 2007. It spread northward through Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It then reached the European Union territory – Lithuania – in January 2014, which was quickly followed the same year by Poland, Latvia and Estonia. It hit Moldavia in 2016. The most recent appearance of the disease started in 2017 with an active spread mainly southward reaching the Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. The virus was unexpectedly discovered in 2018 in Belgium, then in Slovakia, and finally in August 2019 in Serbia.
The latest event in Serbia is of great concern for veterinary scientists and officials. There's now a great risk that the virus will spread to the whole Balkan sub-region. Hence the decision of the president of the Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases for Europe to add a VIP session with ministers of the Balkans during the 14th meeting of the Standing Group of Experts on African swine fever.
“The recent spread of the virus in southeast Europe constitutes a serious threat to the Balkan countries and territories," said Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner of Health and Food Safety. “And should trigger immediate action at national level to significantly raise the level of awareness on African swine fever and to address the situation. Priority actions with neighboring countries should also be defined in a collaborative manner, preparedness being key for the control of this disease.”
Through the countries’ declarations to the World Animal Health Information System of the World Organisation for Animal Health, it's estimated that African swine fever is currently present in more than 45 countries and territories in the world. During the final two weeks of August, 18 countries and territories notified new or ongoing outbreaks in the World Animal Health Information System, including 11 in Europe.
In Europe experts describe two main patterns. In some parts of the region, mainly north and west, the disease is predominantly found in wild-boar populations, sometimes with a total absence of outbreaks in domestic pigs. In the rest of the affected countries its main progression occurs in the domestic-pig sector, with the majority in backyard farming.
Another lesson learned from past years’ experience is the capacity of the virus to jump over long distances and appear in places where it was not expected.
Monique Eloit, director general for the World Organisation for Animal Health, said, “To stop the spread of such disease for which we do not have vaccine coordination, collaboration and experience sharing between all stakeholders are essential, at national level but also regional and international level. The control is possible when everyone applies and respects the rules so that the disease does not become endemic, as demonstrated by the success of Czech Republic and Belgium."
The Standing Group of Experts on African swine fever in Europe, which is part of the Food and Agriculture Organization-World Organisation for Animal Health initiative called “GF-TADs” for Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases, gathers regional and international experts to exchange scientific information and experiences on African swine fever.
Created in September 2014, the Standing Group has through time become a model for other regions. A similar group was created in April 2019 in Asia to face the rapid development of the disease in the Asia Pacific region, which hosts more than 60 percent of the global swine population. A new Standing Group of Experts on African swine fever will soon be launched in the Americas region. The objective is to strengthen the collaboration between countries in the region to prevent the entry of the virus to the Americas region, which is still free from African swine fever. Visit www.oie.int/asf for more information.