Virtual strategic consultation to prevent transboundary infectious disease spread in South Asia organized by ILRI

A strategic consultation meeting to explore ways to prevent transboundary infectious diseases (TAD) from the livestock and poultry sectors of South Asian countries was jointly organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bangladesh Academy of Agriculture (BAAG) on 15 February 2022.

Participants from five South Asian countries meet on Zoom platform to to explore ways to prevent transboundary infectious diseases (TAD) from the livestock and poultry sectors of South Asian countries.

The meeting was chaired by Trilochan Mohapatra, secretary of the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (ICAR) and president of NAAS. The meeting was also attended by the director general of Animal Husbandry, chief veterinary officers of five South Asian countries, the office bearers of NAAS, ILRI, SAARC and BAAG, and invited guests from international organizations and private sector.

In his opening remark, A K Singh, vice-president of NAAS, extended a welcome to the distinguished invitees and participants from South Asia, and briefed them about the importance of TAD in the region. Trade and commerce in the agriculture sector drives the transportation of live animals and animal products across borders and between trading countries. The risk of TAD spread is an increasing concern, with disease events documented across the globe. South Asia has witnessed a number of major TAD events, including foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), peste des petits ruminant (PPR), classical swine fever (CSF), porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome (PRRS), African swine fever (ASF), lumpy skin disease (LSD) and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), among others.

Habibar Rahman, ILRI regional representative for South Asia, highlighted the contribution of the livestock sector to the national and agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of South Asian countries. However, he explained, the sector faces key challenges including huge losses due to diseases, especially the TADs.

In the inaugural session, Krishna Ella, chairman of Bharat Biotech International Ltd, highlighted the objectives and current activities of the foundation in livestock health and food security. The key points of his address included the need for surveillance strategy, as well as use of advance technologies like deep sequencing in detection of infectious agents, strong collaboration, disease reporting, and sharing of disease information among countries. He also emphasized the necessity of mapping containment facilities in the region, and the mechanism for their efficient use. Quality control methods and vaccine platforms are the most critical part of preparedness and are to be developed through strong regional cooperation in research and development.

The chief guest, Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI, opined that livestock is an important sector in South Asia which needs strong support of veterinary services through both public and private partners. The major setbacks in local or national disease reporting are isolation and trade barriers, which should be addressed by formulating a good incentive system. Furthermore, harmonized policies and regulations in the region are essential to create a base to set up regional funds. He added that national policy formulations on trade, movement of animals across the country borders, and strengthening institutional infrastructures will greatly help in the control and prevention of TADs in South Asian countries

In his inaugural address, Mohapatra emphasized that movement and climate change are major causes of the increased number of TADs in the region. This problem requires increased investment, strong institutionalized regulations, and capacity building. He also highlighted the need to create a vaccine bank as a part of epidemic preparedness, which can be achieved through committed budget allocation by SAARC member countries.

The inaugural addresses were followed up by a technical session on ‘Challenges and priorities of TAD in South Asian Countries’ and a panel discussion on ‘Strategies to strengthen regional collaboration and funding for preparedness of TAD in the region’, in which participants discussed in detail the different strategies to strengthen the regional collaboration in South Asia, and different funding opportunities to prepare for TADs. In the open discussion, J M Kataria, A K Samanta, Selina Banu and directors from different ICAR Animal Science divisions expressed their views in effective control and prevention of TADs in the region.

In his closing remarks, Mohapatra expressed his appreciation for the meeting which served as a common platform to discuss important issues on TADs and strategic collaborations for regional disease control. He concluded by emphasizing the impact of TADs and the need for regional cooperation and called for time-bound actions.

The following recommendations have come out from the meeting:

  • Building the regional network of scientist and researchers
  • Exchanging human resources for capacity development
  • Boosting vaccination against TADs in border areas to create an immune belt and planning a dialogue to achieve this between member countries. SAARC and ILRI can play a key role in this
  • Planning virtual meetings of various stakeholders and the formulation of a joint program by the member countries to attract funding
  • Creating a disease database from member countries which would facilitate the exchange of disease information between member countries and help to plan effective control and preventive measures
  • Creating SAARC cooperation unit for TADs. SAARC can play a key role in disease control and prevention in the region

(The post was written by Kennady Vijayalakshmy, research and communications officer with ILRI in South Asia, with additional editing by Chi Nguyen and Annabel Slater, communications officers, ILRI).