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How To Combat African Swine Fever

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Wakiso and Masaka districts are one of the largest pig producing districts in Uganda with at least 1 million pigs on medium and large-scale pig farms, according to the district production office.

Therefore, an outbreak of African swine fever, (a disease that neither has a vaccine nor treatment) in these areas and elsewhere in the country, poses a huge risk to the pig sector in Uganda. The country has about 5 million pigs.

As of June, over 100 pigs had been lost in Masaka! “Yes, we confirm an outbreak in Masaka, but I want to assure farmers that we are doing everything possible to handle the situation,” Dr Vincent Mayega, district production officer, said.

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious and fatal viral disease of domestic pigs. It was first described in Kenya, East Africa, in 1921 by foreign researchers though the disease was of economic importance before 1910.

The disease was soon afterwards described in South Africa and Angola as a disease that killed settler’s pigs. The first outbreak of African swine fever in Europe happened in 1957 and again 1959.

The serious effect of the disease was fully appreciated and immediate actions were taken. Currently, the disease has been completely eradicated in some European countries and others have never experienced outbreaks in domestic pigs since 1959.

In August 2018, the world’s largest pig producer China reported the first African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning province, which was also the first reported case in Eastern Asia.

The disease has now spread to every province in China and it is reported China has culled 26% of its total pig population as a result of the attack.

In Uganda, African swine fever is endemic and outbreaks are cyclical. This is largely due to a poor disease reporting system, slow issuing of quarantines, lack of quarantine implementation and absence of incentives to enable culling of infected pigs without their meat going to the market.

At the moment, there are no measures to compensate farmers with sick animals. There are a number of undocumented outbreaks of African swine fever in Uganda and the current one being in Wakiso and Masaka districts.

The first appearance of African swine fever in an area or farm is usually characterized by death of a large number of pigs after a short illness. Pigs become depressed and suddenly stop eating, huddle together and sometimes may die before other clinical signs develop.

The pig spends most of its time lying down, difficult breathing and flushing of the skin, particularly on the abdomen and extremities in white-skinned pigs, commonly develop in pigs that survive for more than a day. Pigs of all ages are affected.

Outbreak of African Swine Fever in a farm is usually associated with one or all of the following events:

– Close contact between domestic and infected wild pigs

– Introduction of infected pigs into a farm, for example through purchase. Solution is not to buy pigs at the moment.

– Introduction of infected pig meat into the farm. Stop any of your workers from eating pork on or off the farm.

– Feeding of swill that contains raw or insufficiently cooked infected pork and pig remains or access to such remains through scavenging. At the moment, farmers should not get any leftover foods from food eateries.

– Movement of vehicles and people between farms during an outbreak.

– Movement of stray dogs, scavengers and other animals between farms during an outbreak

-Using equipment from infected farms African swine fever has the ability to exist on surfaces for several years.

How can we reduce the impact or even eradicate ASF from Uganda?

Nobody knows when the vaccine or treatment for African Swine Fever will be discovered and if discovered, whether we will be able to access it easily and on time. You know how long it took us to access even the simplest vaccines in the country.

Therefore, for the pig and pork businesses to survive in this difficult environment of repeated African Swine Fever outbreaks there is need for taking actions that can be driven by farmers with less or no government assistance.

There are about four strategies that stake holders need to think about and act as soon as possible as individuals or group of farmers. 

Biosecurity – a priority not an option 

Bio-security of pigs at farm level is the set of practical measures taken to prevent entrance of infection into a pig farm and control the spread of infection within that farm. This requires individual effort and commitment.

Bio-security can be looked at in two ways; Guarding the farm from entry of disease-causing organisms and managing infection on farm to prevent transmission to other pigs in the farm.

Effective bio-security may not come for free; you will spend some money. For example, you need a perimeter fence around the farm to prevent entry of unauthorized personnel, animals, birds etc.

You need to buy disinfectants, construct bathrooms for visitors to take a shower before accessing the pigs, buying farm attire, for both workers and authorised visitors.

On the farm, especially for large farmers; you will need to provide different houses for different categories of pigs e.g. pregnant sows, farrowing sows and growers. All these will cost you some money.

Therefore, a written bio-security plan is important and with it farm workers can easily implement bio-security measures with support of suggested structures. The size of the farm doesn’t matter most especially if it is not the owner managing the pigs on daily basis.

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