Amidst efforts to control and contain the spread of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the people of Papua New Guinea now have to deal with another dreaded endemic which has been on red alert in the recent past.
Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Hon John Simon announced that the African Swine Fever (ASF) – which affects and kills pigs in large numbers – has entered Papua New Guinea.
AFS is a virus that causes a hemorrhagic fever with high mortality rates in domestic pigs; some isolates can cause death of animals as quickly as a week after infection.
The virus was first suspected in late 2019, when reports surfaced of high deaths in pig numbers especially in Mendi, Southern Highlands Province. An investigation team from the National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA), including Chief Vet Officer Dr Ilagi Puana, conducted an investigation into this issue thereafter.
Their findings included:
- The deaths occurred/occurring in Nipa, Mendi Munihu and Mendi Central over a period of four months (Nov 2019 – Feb 25, 2020);
- Nov 2019: Nipa, 300 + deaths; previous report of die offs occurred in April 2019. NAQIA investigation tentatively identified the incidence as the endemic porcine anthrax;
- Jan 2020: Mendi Munihu;
- Feb 2020: Mendi Central, 337 deaths (both M/Munihu and M/Central) verified /witnessed by PLO; and
- March 2020: Ialibu, one death.
For cases witnessed by a Provincial Livestock Officer, clinical presentations were as follows:
- Collapse and sudden deaths;
- Blood in orifices – nose and mouth and
- Description of about 30-35% mortality rate per pig herd or village (six to seven deaths out of a total of 20 pigs) -post mortems revealed congested liver and heart appears to be cut across.
This was confirmed through tests conducted by these scientists; the results were sent to Australia for further confirmation.
Minister Simon revealed that this discovery has caused a stir in the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL); adding that the spread of the contagious virus is a huge threat not only to domesticated pigs but the whole pork industry in the country.
He said ASF is also a threat to the economy and the agriculture industry is set to ensure that livestock and agriculture do not pose any kind of biological threats, especially at this time of a global pandemic.
Minister Simon said although the virus is not a public health threat and cannot be transmitted to humans through contact with pigs or pork; it can greatly affect most people especially in the Highlands where pigs are a source of income and food.
He reiterated that DAL is also very concerned that the spread of this viral disease may affect other neighboring areas, hence he has signed a Gazette which declares three provinces of the Highlands region ‘Disease Areas’ as of March 28 2020.
The three provinces are Southern Highlands, Enga and Hela.
Minister Simon said this declaration is a measure of containment that will ensure that the disease is contained within the most affected areas only.
Dr Puana revealed that they are still investigating how the swine has missed the coastal areas, jumping right into the heart of the Highlands region. He added one possible route could be that the disease was transported through carriers, including imported canned foods.
NAQIA has revealed that after thorough observation and investigation, about K18 million is needed to conduct the first stages of containment country wide; however they have identified that at this stage, only K2 million is needed immediately to contain ASF in the affected areas.
NAQIA Managing Director Joel Alu stated that a team is already on the ground to carry out a delimiting exercise to contain the spread of the virus. The exercise, headed by Dr Puana, will begin in Mendi and neighboring provinces. [Released: March 28 2020]