What if the coronavirus never made the leap from Asia to North America? COVID-19 would still be infecting millions in Europe, Africa, and  Asia, but not in the United States or Canada. North Americans would be watching COVID-19 fatalities only from afar.

That’s what we are doing, only its with African Swine Fever, not COVID-19.

North America isn’t being spared from coronavirus spread, but so far it has escaped ASF entirely. It is wiping out populations of pigs around the world, just not here.

African swine fever (AFS) is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both domestic and wild pigs of all ages. ASF is not a threat to human health and isn’t transmitted from pigs to humans and does not threaten food safety. ASF is found throughout the world, especially in Asia and Africa, but it not yet made it to North America.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)  and the  World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are working to prevent swine fever from spreading. African, Asian, and European swine populations have been involved in 14,327 AFS outbreaks since 2016 and those events have brought the loss of more than 8.2 million pigs.

FAO and OIE say the escalation of the spread of African swine fever (ASF) has placed most of the world’s domestic and wild pig populations under direct threat. To support countries’ efforts to protect economies and food security, the two world bodies have launched a joint initiative for the global control of ASF

Pork, they say,  is the most consumed meat in the world, representing 35.6 percent of global meat consumption. 

In recent years, ASF — which may cause up to 100 percent mortality in pigs — has become a major crisis for the pork industry, causing massive losses in pig populations and generating drastic economic consequences. 

Currently affecting several countries of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and Europe, and with no effective vaccine, the disease is not only impeding animal health and welfare but has detrimental impacts on the livelihoods of farmers.

“Today, 51 countries are affected by African swine fever. Amid the difficult situation posed by COVID-19, ASF continues to spread, intensifying the current health and socioeconomic crises,” said Matthew Stone, OIE Deputy Director-General for International Standards and Science. 

Many countries that are affected by ASF lack sufficient human, financial, or technical resources to rapidly detect, respond, and contain animal diseases.

“In this globalized world, where diseases can spread rapidly across borders, timely sharing of latest scientific information, international collaboration, and notification of ASF is needed to prevent the transboundary spread and minimize impact,” said FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo.

OIE and FAO call on countries and partners to join forces against this deadly pig disease by adopting the new Initiative for the Global Control of ASF.

Building upon the experience of the long-standing collaboration between OIE and FAO for the management of animal health-related risks, the joint Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs) developed the Global Initiative with the aim of fostering national, regional, and global partnerships, to strengthen control measures and to minimize the impact of this complex and challenging disease.

  1. Improve the capability of countries to control — prevent, respond, eradicate — ASF using OIE International Standards and best practices that are based on the latest science.
  2. Establish an effective coordination and cooperation framework for the global control of ASF.
  3. Facilitate business continuity ensuring safe production and trade to protect food systems.

Coordinated actions as part of the Global Initiative should take place alongside maintaining transparency regarding reporting of animal diseases and investing in strong and resilient animal health systems.

The Global Initiative builds on previous regional efforts and follows recommendations of ASF experts from around the world. It aims to strengthen national Veterinary Services’ ability to manage risks through the development and implementation of ASF national control programs, with public and private sectors working in partnership. Risk communication with the relevant stakeholders will be a crucial element to effectively address risk pathways and high-risk practices.

On a global scale, the sustained spread of ASF poses a threat to food security, economic, and rural development. The disease represents a barrier to the agricultural sector to reach its full potential, generate employment and alleviate poverty, and acts as a disincentive to investment in the pig sector. Global control of ASF will thus contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal 1 of No Poverty and Goal 2 of Zero Hunger.

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