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The 21st Conference of the Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) was held in Taipei (Taipei China) from 23 to 26 November 1999. The Conference was opened by the Honourable Dr Tso-Kwei Peng, Chairman of the Council of Agriculture of the Executive Yuan of Taipei China.

  • This Conference, to which had been invited the Heads of Veterinary Services of all the countries of Asia, the Far East and Oceania, reviewed the animal health situation in the region. Several animal diseases still disrupt the production of livestock and aquaculture, as well as trade in such products, and could threaten public health.

Foot and mouth disease remains the most worrying disease because of its severe impact on cattle and pig production in several countries in the region, where new strains of the virus have appeared, or reappeared. Fortunately, some Member Countries remain free from this disease: Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vanuatu.

Other viral diseases are also affecting livestock in certain countries, including swine vesicular disease, peste des petits ruminants, bluetongue, sheep pox and goat pox, classical swine fever and rabies. A new disease has recently been identified in Malaysia: Nipah disease (see below).

Newcastle disease continues to ravage birds in many Asian countries. In Japan, where the disease had been absent for a year, an outbreak was reported in hobby flocks of chickens in the Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures. In Australia, 1,900,000 poultry had to be destroyed.

The 21st Conference in Taipei addressed three other subjects of particular importance to the region:

  • The economic impact of foot and mouth disease in Asia. This viral infection of ruminants and pigs remains the most formidable in all OIE Member Countries because of the direct and indirect economic consequences, and the Asia region is amongst those paying the heaviest price. In order to control the disease and convince governments of the benefits to be derived from its eradication, it is necessary to assess its cost in the specific conditions that prevail in each Asian country.

The experience gained in this field, in particular from studies carried out in Thailand and other countries as part of a campaign in South-East Asia coordinated by the OIE, was particularly useful in calculating the economic impact. A questionnaire on this matter was sent to all of the countries in the region, and the costs associated with production losses, intervention in the event of an outbreak of the disease and interruptions to trade, as well as surveillance and prevention efforts, were evaluated and presented at the Conference.

The participants recommended that the Office International des Epizooties should continue to harmonise, standardise and coordinate the methods used for assessing the economic impact of the disease in the region, particularly by assisting with training and the development of expertise in the domain.

  • Surveillance and control of aquatic animal diseases. Aquaculture in Asia represents the highest level of production in the world, particularly of fresh water fish (11,943,000 tonnes in 1998 in the People’s Republic of China, etc.).

The most effective way of controlling diseases in fish is to improve aquaculture pond management. Since trade in aquatic animals has increased over recent years, at both national and international level, the risk of introducing exotic diseases into zones hitherto free from them is higher than in the past.

The Office International des Epizooties in Paris (France) and its Regional Representation in Tokyo (Japan) have therefore set up, in close collaboration with the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia and Pacific Region (NACA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), a database on aquatic animal diseases in the region, based on passive or active epidemiological surveillance. Naturally, the functioning of this system is still affected by
socio-economic differences between the countries, but it is vital to control the global health situation.

  • Infection of animals and humans by the Nipah virus. A new disease in pigs appeared in the Malaysian Peninsula in October 1998. It has led to the death, by encephalitis, of more than one hundred people who had come into contact with infected pigs. The 'Nipah' virus was identified as the etiological agent of a pronounced respiratory and neurological disease in pigs. Serological tests indicated that a fruit-eating bat of the Pteropid genus could be the reservoir of the virus. The risk of this virus spreading to other countries is fortunately very low, as more than one million infected or exposed pigs have been slaughtered and movements of other animals living in the infected zone were very rapidly suspended.

In view of the very significant impact of this infection, both on human health and international trade in animals and animal products, Malaysia has launched a vast surveillance and prophylactic programme to control the disease, which appears to have resulted in its eradication.

(For further details, consult the OIE web site).

Contact : Maria Zampaglione