African swine fever
A sub-Saharan epidemic and a global pork crisis
African swine fever (ASF) continues to impact global pork production, especially in Europe and Asia and has hit the western hemisphere after nearly 40 years. Sitting at the door step of the United States, USDA has pledged an emergency appropriation of USD500 million to increase surveillance and prevent the disease from entering the country. In 2020, the US pork export industry was valued at USD7.7 billion which would immediately shut down if the disease is found in the country. China, the world’s largest pork consumer had seen a total economic loss of $111 billion, amounting to 0.78% of the countries gross domestic product in 2019.
ASF is a transboundary disease, with a 100% fatality which is highly contagious and has the potential for rapid spread causing serious socio-economic and public health consequences.
No vaccines or treatment is available for ASF. Regions with soft ticks and wild boars make it impossible to eradicate the disease.
ILRI's role on African swine fever
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, has a comparative advantage to address African swine fever because it has research facilities located in the endemic areas of the disease which allows research activities with the causative virus at source. ILRI offices are located in some of the most affected African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burkina faso, Mali and Zimbabwe and also in regional offices where there is a current outbreak such as Vietnam.
In early 2000, ILRI commenced research on ASF with a focus on epidemiology and surveillance, diagnostics and assessing the socio-economic impacts of the disease. Over time, with national and international collaborations, the scope of research has expanded to undertake ASF vaccine development and further expand activities on diagnostic development. A group of ILRI scientists are currently working on developing vaccines for ASF using CRISPR-cas system to develop mutants as well as develop attenuated strains. The scientists are also working on establishing reverse genetic system as well as conducting studies to identify the role of ASFV genes in host immune response pathways.
The organisation is well suited to address some of the challenges hindering control of ASF and is focused on working with other global initiatives including the Global African swine fever Research Alliance (GARA) to provide tools and evidence to support regional and global control of the disease.