Multi-country simulation to test animal disease preparedness in the Balkans

Multi-country simulation  to test animal disease preparedness in the Balkans

BUDAPEST, February 23 (FENA) – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (EuFMD) are co-leading a two-day simulation exercise in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia on foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever, two major transboundary animal diseases threatening the Balkans.

The online exercise is part of the FAO’s efforts to help Balkan countries bolster their capacities to respond to incursions of high-impact animal diseases.

A simulation exercise is a controlled activity in which an outbreak or other incident is mimicked to assess preparedness. Ten participants from each country’s veterinary services, at both central and local levels, will work through several scenarios via an online crisis simulation platform.

On the first day of the simulation, the objective will be to test the first steps when facing an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, such as international and internal communication, clinical recognition and outbreak investigation.

“This is the first time we are combining two diseases into one online simulation exercise,” said Fabrizio Rosso, the EuFMD deputy executive secretary. “I have to say it is both challenging and exciting.”

Rosso added that the exercises are a good opportunity to combine the efforts of regional programs on African swine fever, led by the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, and on foot-and-mouth disease, led by EuFMD.

“Transboundary animal diseases share several commonalities when it comes to response, such as the initial reaction, movement restriction and stamping out,” he said. “Countries really appreciate that projects harmonize regional efforts and avoid duplications.”

During the second day, the focus is on the planning of culling, disposal and cleaning operations of a hypothetical commercial pig farm infected with foot-and-mouth disease. The exercises will enable critical looks at the standard operating procedures in each country. In the afternoon, the aim is to simulate the confirmation of African swine fever in a wild boar found dead in the border region and to discuss and harmonize what cross-border measures would be needed.

Implementing face-to-face activities has been impossible lately due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Despite the current situation, it is very important to continue supporting countries to get ready against high-impact diseases such as ASF. Over the past year, we had to develop new approaches, and we often teamed up with EuFMD to benefit from their know-how of virtual tools,” said Daniel Beltran-Alcrudo, FAO technical advisor on animal health.