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Newsletter 2017-01

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Anna Okello, Dan Edson and Nick Harris.
Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, 2017

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Current Australian-funded international animal health activities

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Focus One: Emergency disease preparedness and management

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is supporting partnerships between a range of national and international stakeholders to improve regional forecasting and response capability for emerging infectious diseases, particularly those with pandemic potential, including zoonotic diseases.

A key example is the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Emerging Infectious Diseases (AIP–EID) programme (2015–2018), which aims to improve human and animal health systems to support sustainable economic development, food security and a reduction in the global threats posed by emerging infectious diseases. The AIP–EID programme promotes a ‘One Health’ approach through working synergistically with both the animal and human health sectors to build on existing collaborations between the department, the World Health Organization (WHO) and their Indonesian counterpart agencies. To date, these activities have supported and strengthened Indonesian government systems for integrated preparedness and response to both animal and public health emergencies, while promoting good practises in leadership, management and evidence-based decision-making.

Through the Stop Transboundary Animal Diseases and Zoonoses (STANDZ) investment (2011–2018) Australia has supported the work of the OIE to improve the performance of veterinary services in South East Asia.

STANDZ is implemented across 11 countries, with the control of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) — a transboundary animal disease challenge that derails sustainable rural development and food security — a significant programme component. The programme utilises OIE’s international standards to strengthen animal health systems to prevent and contain outbreaks of transboundary animal diseases. This also improves preparation and response mechanisms for a potential human pandemic from a zoonotic disease.

Focus Two: Animal health and welfare as a component of the livestock value chain

Australian livestock productivity investments incorporate animal health and welfare components as a core component of productivity. One example is the DFAT Market Development Facility’s Pakistan programme to support private sector engagement in the dairy and meat sector. Animal health related activities have included collaboration with a vaccine supply company to improve the supply chain of FMD vaccines and other preventive cattle therapeutics in Pakistan. Also in Pakistan, the Agriculture Value Chain Collaborative Research programme, in partnership with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), funds value chain research in the dairy and beef sectors.

The Australia–Indonesia Partnership for Rural Economic Development (AIP–Rural) is improving supply chains in cattle and pigs as well as undertaking cattle research. Indobeef is another ACIAR-supported collaborative agricultural research programme aimed at improving nutrition, health and husbandry of smallholder cattle and the incomes and livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

Elsewhere in the Asia region, ACIAR is supporting a multidisciplinary research programme in Myanmar that includes a project on improving the livelihoods of smallholder livestock producers in the Central Dry Zone through research on animal health and production.

Focus on…Rabies

Rabies is currently endemic in 24 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, with recent outbreaks in Bali (2008), Nias Island (2010), Larat Island (2010) and Dawera Island (2012) (ASEAN 2016; Dibia et al. 2015). A 2017 outbreak in Malaysia Sarawak has reported six human fatalities (PROMED 2017) alongside confirmed dog (54) and cat (2) cases (OIE 2017a). Malaysia also notified the OIE of an unrelated rabies outbreak in the peninsular state of Perak in July 2017, involving a single canine case and two human exposures through dog bites.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor-Leste (TL) are considered at-risk as rabies moves closer to their borders. Australian partners are assisting in the development of national and regional strategies to help reduce the risk of rabies becoming endemic, and act if it does. Examples include the Emergency Animal Disease Contingency and Technical (ERADICATE) plan in PNG, the National Preparedness Contingency Plans on Rabies in Timor–Leste, and the WHO Strategic Framework for Elimination of Human Rabies Transmitted by dogs in the South East Asia Region.

International authorities agree that control activities for an outbreak of rabies includes quarantine and movement controls, the euthanasia of infected animals, stray dog population management programmes including mass dog vaccination and animal breeding control (OIE 2017b), surveillance and trace-back programmes (including identification of all dogs involved in human bite cases), public education and diagnostic laboratory support to manage surge capacity during a response. Timor–Leste is in the process of joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and as a result will receive added regional political support as outlined in the ASEAN Rabies Elimination Strategy; PNG maintains observer status only. Rabies is present in most ASEAN member states with only Singapore and Brunei Darussalam currently free of the disease. High level political support towards the elimination of canine-mediated rabies by 2030 is demonstrated through ongoing activities by the WHO–OIE–FAO tripartite and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, with the STOP-R Framework encompassing the five pillars of rabies elimination (socio-cultural, technical, organization, political and resources) endorsed in December 2015.

Inter-island transport of infected dogs, including dogs transported on fishing boats, has been responsible for the introduction of rabies into many islands in Indonesia (Dibia et al. 2015). People transporting pet dogs via vehicles on ferries has also been recognised as a potentially important pathway for the spread of rabies in Indonesia (Ward & Hernandez-Jover 2015). Spread to rabies-free provinces is an ongoing concern for both Indonesia and Timor–Leste as informal land and sea border crossings frequently take place between the two countries. Fortunately, the island of Timor remains rabies free to date. Current rabies-prevention procedures in Timor–Leste include biosecurity measures for imported animals, including health certification to confirm imported animals have been tested for rabies and are disease free. The Timor–Leste national rabies response plan, currently in draft form, outlines a number of actions that will be activated by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries once a laboratory-confirmed case of rabies in a dog (or a locally acquired case in a person) is detected in Timor–Leste. The plan also has related standard operating procedures and is being developed by testing it in desktop exercises. The first desktop exercise occurred in January 2017, and a follow-up exercise was held in October 2017. 

In PNG, land pathways are considered to be a greater risk than sea pathways (Brookes & Ward 2017), particularly in to Western and West Sepik Provinces. Incursion from sea pathways, particularly in Madang, West Sepik and East New Britain provinces (Figure 1), are also considered a risk; these areas have a high number of incoming vessels, with current inspection processes unlikely to detect dogs. There are significant populations of uncontrolled dogs and cats in PNG and a disease incursion is likely to be easily maintained.


Figure 1. Potential land and sea pathways for a rabies incursion in to Papua New Guinea.

The PNG ERADICATE plan outlines several steps for rabies prevention, including import regulations for dogs and cats and post arrival quarantine. It is currently illegal to bring foxes, wolves or dingoes into the country. If a rabies case is confirmed, quarantine and movement controls will be implemented, along with vaccination, public education and case report management.

By working with counterpart agencies in Timor–Leste and PNG to develop and test rabies control plans, and reviewing biosecurity arrangements in the Torres Strait Islands and northern Australia through the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (including working with indigenous ranger groups), the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is helping to mitigate the risk of rabies spreading in the region.

Further reading

ASEAN 2016, ASEAN rabies elimination strategy, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Bangkok, Thailand.

Brookes, VJ & Ward, MP 2017, ‘Expert Opinion to Identify High-Risk Entry Routes of Canine Rabies into Papua New Guinea', Zoonoses and Public Health, vol. 64, no. 2, pp. 156-160.

Dibia, IN, Sumiarto, B, Susetya, H, Putra, AAG, Scott-Orr, H & Mahardika, GN 2015, 'Phylogeography of the current rabies viruses in Indonesia', Journal of Veterinary Science, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 459-466.

OIE 2017a, World Animal Health Information Database Interface, Disease information\Immediate notifications and Follow-ups\Rabies\Malaysia, accessed 10 October 2017. 

OIE 2017b, ‘Chapter 7.7 Stray dog population control’, in OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code, OIE, Paris, France.

PROMED 2017, ‘Rabies (38): Asia (Thailand, Malaysia-Sarawak) human, animal’, Archive number: 20170809.5239244, accessed 10 October 2017.

Ward, MP & Hernandez-Jover, M 2015, ‘A generic rabies risk assessment tool to support surveillance’, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, vol. 120, no. 1, pp. 4-11.