MINDANAO GETS ASF ‘TERROR’ JOLT
AUTHORITIES ARE FIGHTING AN UPHILL BATTLE TO CONTROL THE SPREAD OF THE DREADED HOG DISEASE IN THE DAVAO REGION, NEIGHBORING AREAS
DAVAO CITY—Until now, practically nobody could come up with a plausible explanation yet on how the dreaded African Swine Fever (ASF) managed to sneak into the sleepy and dusty down of Don Marcelino town of Davao Occidental in the final week of January, more than six months after the first case of ASF infection was recorded in the Philippines’s Luzon island.
When the reports came of a lockdown in the transport of pigs (or swine, or hogs) and other pork products in the town, and the confirmation of the ASF incursion across the Davao region and the neighboring regions, authorities were jolted into the realization that the first case of infection just happened in Mindanao.
This southern Philippine island had put up a strong guard against incursions of other livestock diseases in the past, from the foot-and-mouth disease to bird flu, that were infecting Luzon.
Apparently, the quarantine protocols remained in place, but the suspicious look was cast on port quarantine and the unchecked supply channel through the little piers in small provincial capitals and major towns.
This also includes the supposed impractical move to subject all travelers to individual search to ferret out those carrying possible infected pork meat products in small packages, an indication of the porosity of quarantine in the ports.
This may have been aggravated by the nonchalant behavior of the public since they may have not been informed or warned, or simply put, would not know any better. Economic losses
THE economic consequence and serious production and supply problem, according to the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health, has been directed at the spread of the ASF, especially in Asia.
The impact is harsh among backyard hog-raisers, where biosafety procedures are practically absent and animal health issues are widespread but minimally attended to.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said losses in Luzon alone since last year have reached P1 billion every month.
Here, in the infected areas of Davao Occidental and Davao City, the losses could not be less than P80 million in the first week of containment amid culling and depopulation of swine farms. This
amount was based only on the indemnification equivalent for each pig culled. And depopulating the infected areas was yet to be completed.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) has guaranteed payment of P5,000 for every pig culled, while some local governments have volunteered to give additional cash incentives.
The amount could still rise with total depopulation recommended for infected areas, with the animals to be buried in an identified common ground to be disinfected later. Davao Occidental alone has a swine population of 37,713. This would be about P188.56 million in indemnification equivalent alone, a financial burden aggravated by other serious challenges: the lack of supply in the market and the other accrued losses in hog trading.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte has announced the city government would give another P5,000 on top of the DA indemnification.
As of Tuesday, the Davao City Veterinarian’s Office (CVO) said it had completed depopulating the two barangays of its swine population, a total of 2,343 heads. CVO head Dr. Cerelyn Pinili said all affected hog raisers were given financial assistance as soon as they turned over their pigs to the authorities.
“We ensured that the raisers will receive the assistance immediately after they turned over their pigs. We don’t want them to wait for…many days,” Pinili said.
ON the last Friday of January, Don Marcelino town, some 41 kilometers south of the Davao Occidental capital of Malita, was abuzz with activities by the local government officials and the regional offices of the department and nine other national government agencies after Mayor Michael Maruya locked down his town against the exit and entry of live pigs and pork products.
In his social-media post on January 31, the mayor ordered a “24/7 temporary lockdown of selling and buying pigs following the mortality of about 1,000 heads of swine in eight barangays, namely Linadasan, North Lamidan, South Lamidan, Calian, Mabuhay, Lawa, Nueva Villa and Baluntaya.”
He said swine deaths have been continuing but did not say when the infection started.
The temporary lockdown was recommended by DA’s Region 11 office and the Provincial Veterinarian Office as a measure to control the spread of the ASF and to ensure the safety of the consumers on the consumption of pork products in Don Marcelino.
Also on that day, Regional Director Liza Mazo of the Office of Civil Defense activated a task force and directed nine national government agencies and the disaster risk-reduction and management offices of the six provinces and one city of the Davao Region to coordinate with the DA all information and results of initial investigation.
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) also ordered the provincial police, barangay captains and other concerned offices to ensure the establishment of “24/7 animal quarantine checkpoints” in various entry points of Don Marcelino municipality.
The residents were also informed of the situation and were asked to cooperate.
Within that week and a few days later, belated reports reaching the office of Agriculture Secretary William Dar showed attempts to bypass the lockdown protocol, even as the scope of the lockdown was further widened by the provincial governor when infection reached neighboring towns—a surprise, as it had been thought all the while that the incursion was still confined to Don Marcelino.
The Sarangani and General Santos City quarantine checkpoints established since last year have reported of Davao Occidental hog traders attempting to sneak out live pigs into Sarangani through the less frequented and circuitous Jose Abad Santos-Glan border highway. They were turned back by checkpoint personnel, however.
One attempt by hog traders from Sulop town of Davao Occidental’s adjoining province of Davao del Sur succeeded in transporting 42 pigs to Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato, through the usual Davao del SurGeneral Santos City highway.
Quarantine personnel doing back-tracing of the transport of pigs were led to the Koronadal City holding area of the newly transported pigs. Laboratory samples taken from the pigs showed 11 of them were positive for the ASF virus.
Immediately, Sulop Mayor Jimmy Sagarino closed the auction market in Sulop; its pigs were sourced from the infected Malita and Don Marcelino towns of Davao Occidental. The DA could not immediately ascertain if the contamination has spread to other towns.
So far, the contamination surfaced in two northern barangays of Davao City, in Dominga and Lamanan, on the same week as the Don Marcelino infection. The DA said the first indication of ASFcaused deaths was reported on January 27.
THE World Organisation for Animal Health said the severe viral disease is responsible for serious production and economic losses in infected countries, mostly in Asia.
It described the ASF as a transboundary animal disease that can be spread by live or dead pigs, domestic or wild, and pork products. “Furthermore, transmission can also occur via contaminated feed and fomites [non-living objects] such as shoes, clothes, vehicles, knives, equipment. etc., due to the high environmental resistance of ASF virus.”
No approved vaccine has been developed yet against the ASF, unlike the classical swine fever, or the hog cholera, which is caused by a different virus. Historically, outbreaks have been reported in Africa and parts of Europe, South America and the Caribbean. Since 2007, the organization said the disease has been reported in multiple countries across Africa, Asia and Europe, in both domestic and wild pigs.
Dar said the spread of the virus in Don Marcelino town, which has a swine population of 14,087 heads, was mainly through swill feeds, locally called lamaw. However, Dr. Ronnie Domingo, director of the Bureau Animal Industry, said the virus infection may have been caused by someone transporting infected pigs from Pampanga, Bulacan in Luzon, including Quezon City, in the national capital, or by the unchecked swill being shipped from Indonesia.
He said Indonesia may be an Islamic nation, but the eastern side of the country is populated by Christians from where the shipment may have originated through individual contacts.
Dar appealed to local government enforcers and households to refrain from raising pigs anew in their backyards. He said a sentinel growing program should be observed: rest the disinfected areas around where the pigs were buried for at least 30 days. Then the household may start a trial raising of pigs, to be regularly tested. And, if there would be no more sign of infection, then the raising of pigs in herds may start again.
“Families should not raise pigs immediately after deculling,” he said.
IN Davao City, Dr. Pinili imposed a quarantine prohibition on city personnel involved in the culling of pigs. They must refrain from visiting other barangays for the next three days. All vehicles and other logistics they used must first be thoroughly disinfected.
She said disinfection would continue daily for 30 days.
The city government, however, gave assurances that pork would still be around, but advised consumers to look for the certification from the National Meat Inspection Commission which must be displayed in market stalls.
A woman stall owner in the Mintal market showed the BusinessMirror a copy of the certification and gave assurances that all the other pork sellers were complying with the city government requirement.
“These are from the corporate growers of pigs,” she told BusinessMirror on Monday.
Dar said it was fortunate that in the case of the pigs transported from the auction market in Sulop to a holding area in Koronadal, there was no indication that the virus had spread in the surrounding barangays after several days of monitoring.
“But the report from Sarangani only shows that residents in infected Davao Occidental made attempts to bypass lockdown protocols and attempted to smuggle them out,” he said. This action threatens the further spread of the disease if unchecked.
The situation also indicated that vigilance should be revived anew, especially among the local governments, which maintain these quarantine checkpoints. He said the DA and its attached agencies only provide augmentation and technical assistance.
“I am appealing now to all local governments across the country, not only in the Davao region and the rest of Mindanao,” he said. “Everybody must now be up on their feet and ensure that there would be no more spread and incursion anywhere else.”
Sarangani has increased its number of quarantine checkpoints and these were established along its eastern and northern boundaries with Davao del Sur and Davao Occidental. “We are still ASFfree—but for now,” said Sarangani veterinarian Bernard Cababat.