CAHFS Monthly Topic: Feasibility of Global Animal Disease Control Strategies in Asia
Umanga Gunasekera



More than ever, people now realize the impact of animal health and trade on human health and well-being. According to the WHO definition, “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1948). Animal health influences every component of this definition: physical (protection from zoonoses and food safety), mental and social (economy and companion animal health). 

Diseases of livestock can have a devastating impact. African Swine Fever (ASF) has been causing outbreaks in Asia since 2018 and now ventures toward global spread. Global food security is affected by the ASF epidemic. Due to the global market interconnectedness, when one country gets affected, it causes a chain of reactions impacting other countries as well. In response to an emergency, every country needs to weigh between competing priorities to control the outbreak as early as possible, trying to preserve the economy. One act of self-protection is trade restrictions on imports. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is responsible for global trade equity and keeps checks and balances on the system based on scientific standards set by organizations such as the OIE and FAO. Accordingly, countries should come up with a scientifically sound argument to reject animal products from another country. Nonetheless, the direct and indirect impacts of a disease such as ASF cause a decrease in the amount of food available to the world, and those impacted most are the poorest countries. 

In a similar manner, the OIE and FAO support the process of upgrading animal health systems in countries carried out by the official veterinary services (OVS). FAO is focused on establishing global food security, enabling access to food and clean water for 10 billion people. This is not an individual organization effort but a collective effort. The recommendations provided by international organizations are for the benefit of involved individuals but sometimes may appear overly ambitious. Having broad goals of development (ex: UN sustainable development goals) makes the goals difficult to attain, and it sometimes results in heavy criticism

Many of the developing countries are somewhere between a rock and a hard place, and instead of looking for long-term solutions, they struggle to meet daily demands. When it comes to the implementation phase of broader goals, how likely are they to be realized?. Let’s explore using three core tools introduced by FAO and OIE to enhance animal health and trade. 

Building Regional Expertise for the Control of TADs

In 2004, OIE, WHO, and FAO introduced the Global Framework to control Transboundary Animal Diseases (GFTAD) to control emerging infectious diseases. To achieve this, they facilitate regional alliances in different parts of the world. They reach out using existing regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A region will be evaluated for the progress using set indicators. In the process, risk zones for different transboundary diseases are identified in collaboration with respective governments, and periodic reviews are conducted to determine prioritized diseases specific to each region/sub-region.

Strengthening Veterinary Workforce PVS

Recognizing the disparities of veterinary education and veterinary practices over the world, the OIE has developed an international standard (set of guidelines) for the countries to improve their overall quality of veterinary services, animal health, and public health management. This is known as the Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) Pathway. Countries can request OIE to evaluate the national veterinary service and produce feedback on their strengths and weaknesses. The process is participatory, collaborative, and iterative and looks for countries to work on concrete action plans to improve their weaknesses. Through this program, OVSs strengthen their effectiveness to control diseases which leads to increased market opportunities.

Making control of FMD feasible step by step 

The FAO introduced the progressive control pathway, endorsed by OIE, to control Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in endemic countries following a risk-based strategic plan. This framework could be applicable to any infectious animal disease control, including zoonoses (ex: swine diseases, avian influenza, and rabies) and consists of 5 stages. Stage 0 is where a country would begin with no reliable information, and FMD risk is not identified. In stage 1 risk of FMD and control options will be identified (ex: Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan). In stage 2 (ex: Bangladesh), the impact of FMD will be reduced in an identified species (ex: pig or cattle) or a targeted area. In stage 3, virus circulation is reduced using vaccines, and an official national control program will be in place (ex: Vietnam, Malaysia). Stage 4 will be to obtain freedom from disease with vaccination(ex: China, India, Indonesia), and the above stages would be reaching towards complete FMD freedom without vaccination. 


Remaining challenges to unleash the potential of these initiatives

Most of the time, countries in a given region like Asia do not have homogenous development; they do not get along politically and, therefore, lack communication among each other- “In Asia, talking and relationship building is half the challenge to solving problems,” Murray Hiebert, a senior associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Further difficulties arise due to the difference in the administrative structure and having different official languages. Even after training is provided, there is no incentive to share technical support or laboratory facilities across the countries.

Besides, there are disparities in disease surveillance and maintaining ongoing databases to assess disease outbreaks’ economic impact. And the lack of updated policy frameworks could also jeopardize the implementation of programs, such as the PCP pathway. 

The process of setting effective intersectional collaborations can be cumbersome. For instance, GFTAD regional efforts would focus on areas to promote exports through the control of TADs, instead of identifying emerging pathogens. Still, the export market is often controlled by the private sector, yet the private sector is not typically incorporated in the decision-making process.

When it comes to implementing programs such as PVS, there is a disparity of financial support to upgrade veterinary services in different countries. In most countries, financial resources are allocated by the government for veterinary services based on revenue from the international livestock trade. Therefore, the amount of interest in getting evaluated varies accordingly.


As Ludwig von Bertalanffy's General System Theory (GST) proposed, countries must realize that it is crucial to look at the system as a whole, as a self-regulating system like those found in nature, and not as individual sectors within or external to the country. Quoting him, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts is simply that, constitutive characteristics are not explainable from the characteristics of the isolated parts...”.  As best realized with a single COVID epidemic turning into a pandemic, countries must understand that despite their level of performance as individuals, in the end, what matters is the thriving of the system. 

Woman with brown hair, blue shirt, and glasses

Umanga Gunasekera

Umanga is a PhD student in the department of Veterinary Population Medicine. Her focus is on infectious disease, specifically bovine diseases that cause economic losses to farmers. She is enthusiastic to get involved in a career where she can use and share the knowledge she has obtained to help farmers, and see a positive outcome. Umanga grew up in Sri Lanka, and came to the US in order to gain advanced knowledge in the field of veterinary epidemiology.