GARA Gap Analysis Workshop 2023: Kampala, Uganda, February 2023

The Global African Swine Fever Research Alliance (GARA), an initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has been in existence for 10 years. GARA’s first workshop was convened at Plum Island in the United States, while the most recent GARA Gap Analysis Workshop was held in Kampala, Uganda the first on the African continent during the first week of February.

The purpose of GARA is to bring scientists and researchers from all over the world together to discuss gaps in our knowledge of African swine fever (ASF) and identify projects and outcomes that will benefit our control and management of this globally significant pig disease.

A new genotype of the ASF virus group has recently been identified in South Africa, bringing the total to 25 known genotypes of ASF.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), formerly the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the geographical range of ASF is increasing and the global epidemiological pattern has deteriorated. Long-distance jumps across the globe highlight the role humans play in the transmission of ASF, the so-called anthropogenic spread.

On the positive side, the number of new countries reporting ASF has reduced compared to the peak in 2018/2019; however, a concern was expressed that there may be a level of under-reporting to the WOAH.

Pig compartmentalisation guidelines have been developed for the management and control of ASF by the WOAH, with the aim of facilitating national and international trade and promoting disease prevention and control.

Global and regional initiatives to explore ways of combating ASF on a wide scale have been created between the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and WOAH. There is no doubt that ASF is receiving global attention! Focus areas include a better understanding of epidemiology (how the disease moves) and the development of a vaccine. Current focus is on a vaccine for ASF genotype II, which is predominant in Europe and Asia. This vaccine may not work in Africa as cross-protection with other genotypes which are prevalent on African continent still needs research.

An interesting story was shared about an outbreak in Nigeria of ASF genotype II in a large piggery near Lagos in 2020. Initially, it was presumed to have been ‘imported’ from Europe, but it was later established, using genetic mapping, that this particular ASF outbreak was related to an East African variant.

Communal and smallholder farms

Many of attendees highlighted the fact that, within communal and smallholder settings where survival is a day-to-day reality, selling and slaughtering pigs at first signs of ASF was common practice. Work done by the Swedish National Veterinary Institute suggests that awareness does change attitudes towards biosecurity and reducing the risks of spreading ASF.

Within the smallholder community, research indicates that the 3 key issues are:

  1. lack of veterinary services;
  2. lack of experience with pig diseases;
  3. the fact that disease is only one of the many challenges faced.

Farmers need to balance the needs of the family against purchasing medicines for their pigs. An innovative idea expressed was that possibly mobile slaughter facilities could assist in times of outbreaks to ‘safely’ slaughter pigs on affected farms, particularly on small farms, and possibly then process the pork to render it ‘safe’.

Looking to the future

Interesting new approaches to managing outbreaks on a commercial sale were also reported. These include rapid removal of infected pigs to reduce the spread within a farm. The knowledge that meat from ‘potentially infected’ ASF pigs is safe for human consumption, plus, if properly processed, does not constitute an onward transmission threat gave rise to more innovative management strategies. In some cases, as many as 99% of the pigs but an average of 57,5%, survived. Improved pen-side testing methods would greatly assist this type of approach, and development of more robust, affordable, accurate, and easy-to-use tests are ongoing.

The conclusion from the most recent GARA Gap Analysis Workshop is that there are many interesting and worthwhile projects continuing worldwide to reduce the impact that ASF is having on the global pig industry.

Dr Peter Evans