PNG raises ‘red alert’

By CYRIL GARE

Papua New Guinea has declared a “Red Alert” against the African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) – a deadly disease of the pigs while the neighbouring Australia has declared a “hyper-vigilance” on the same.

If ASF hits PNG shores, it would decimate the entire pigs’ population with very detrimental effects on human lives (where people depend on pigs for customary obligations and meat) and the small growing piggery businesses in the country compared to Australia which has 2,700 pork producers providing some 34,000 Australian jobs.

The country’s watch dog – NAQIA (Agriculture Quarantine & Inspection Authority) this week raised the red light after confirming Timor Leste to be the latest frontier in the region to catch ASF on Sep 27, making it the 10th country in the region to have been infected by the ASF.

“Timor Leste shares a land border with Indonesia and since this is within the same geographical region as PNG the chances of the virus entering our shores are real.

“The confirmation of the disease in Timor Leste and direct flights between the Philippine cities of Cebu and Manila and Port Moresby now raises our alert level to Red Alert. The Republic of the Philippines has also reported ASF this year. A more intense awareness and enhanced biosecurity protocols will be implemented at our borders,” said Joel Alu, NAQIA managing director.

Australia has sent specialist sniffer dogs to Darwin, Northern Territory – the closest port from Dili, capital of Timor Leste – a hour 20 minutes flight away.

In paid emergency quarantine public notices in the dailies released on Monday, NAQIA’s managing director, Mr Alu said: “NAQIA has begun instituting precautionary measures at our borders, and have being raising awareness on the disease in swine, pork, and pork products.

“Specific actions taken so far as per our Emergency Animal Disease Contingency Plan include; drafting of technical guidelines, conduct of risk assessments, develop Standard Operating Procedures, identify gaps in our current border cargo clearance procedures and processes for an enhanced border clearance approach, public outreach and awareness, diagnostic capacity assessment, and the establishment of a regional laboratory network to enhance testing capacity and information sharing.”

More so, Mr Alu said PNG was thankful to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to have accepted the invitation to send a technical team to visit PNG in the wake of the ASF threat and extend the same to the International Organisation of Animal Health (OIE) for supporting the mission.

“The FAO team in the country will help identify those gaps and find possible mitigation measures that are doable based on our resource capacity.

“We would also like to thank the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for funding the team’s participation and the PNG FAO country office for facilitating the visit and also for co funding some of the in-country activities,” he said.

These international experts from the FAO headquarters in Rome comprise emergency disease managers, biosecurity experts, laboratory diagnostic experts, veterinarians, value chain experts and scientists from the FAO’s emergency management centre – animal health (EMC-AH) and the emergency centre for trans-boundary animal disease (ECTAD).

“They will help mitigate a likely incursion of the disease in the country. As part of the terms of reference for the team’s engagement they will also assess our current ASF response activities and programs and the border biosecurity management strategies and guide the development of specific guidelines for the effective response mechanisms for similar emergency animal diseases situations in the future.”

The team will be in the country from Oct 7-12 and will be visiting Mt Hagen, Jiwaka, Lae and the NCD based players to study and understand how the value chain and biosecurity management system work and talk to key players and actors in the supply system.

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