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SEACFMD meeting moves to Mongolia to address transboundary disease issues

Professor Emeritus Peter Windsor

The 22nd OIE SEACFMD National Coordinators Meeting was held in Ulaanbaatar, on 25-27 June 2019. This is an annual international regional meeting to exchange knowledge and discuss shared concerns about Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) surveillance and control. For several years the meeting has involved participants from both Southeast and East Asia, enabling a much broader understanding of the transboundary dynamics of FMD transmission from Myanmar through Malaysia to South and North Korea, with contributions from the FMD-free countries, from Indonesia and the Philippines through Taiwan to Japan (image 1). Australia and New Zealand have been major supporters of the SEACFMD program. This year the FMD focus was in an atmosphere of concern due to the disturbing emergence of another transboundary emerging disease (TBED) African Swine Fever (ASF) in the region, with recent incursions from China into Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. 

Image 1: SEACFMD Delegates in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 25-27 June, 2019

On the invitation of Dr Ronel Abila of the OIE office in Bangkok that organised the meeting, Peter Windsor had been invited to give an update on the work of the Sydney University (USYD) Mekong Livestock Research (MLR) team and discuss the recent findings of a new treatment for clinical FMD using Tri-Solfen (TS; manufactured by Medical Ethics/ME of Australia). At the meeting, Peter was accompanied by Allan Giffard and Charles Olsson of ME and also present was MLR team members Jim Young (Thermo-Fischer Pty Ltd) and Dr Syseng Khounsy (DLF, Lao PDR). Other friends and colleagues of the SEACFMD network included several Australians; USYD vet graduate Caitlin Holley of the OIE Office in Japan (image 2) plus Wilna Vosloo of CSIRO, and John Weaver of Weaver Consulting.

Image 2: L-R: Prof Peter Windsor, Dr Jim Young, Dr Caitlin Holley, Mr Allan Giffard, Mr Charles Olsson

Having only joined SEACFMD in recent years, this was the first time that Mongolia had hosted the meeting and for many, this was their first visit to this astonishing country. A highlight of the meeting was the afternoon bus tour on the 27th into rural areas that enabled participants to observe Mongolian raptors (image 3), climb the enormous Genghis Khan memorial statue (image 4) and visit the underlying museum (image 5). Participants then witnessed Mongolian wrestling (image 6) and archery, indulged in a BBQ of Mongolian lamb, accompanied by local vodka and the usual post-dinner national performances of song. With a reasonable Australian contingent, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was well received yet again, although the abundance of spirit may have influenced the qualities of both the performance and appreciation. The return to Ulaanbaatar was via a nomadic rural village to observe the livestock (image 7), visit several gerts (yurts), and taste a variety of the local dairy products. This was a terrific insight into the richness of a Mongolian culture that is directly descended from the leader of the largest empire the world has ever seen whose descendents include an estimated >0.5% of the global male population. Mongolia currently has just over 3million inhabitants with almost 50% living in Ulaanbaatar. Sobering was the observed and reported challenges facing the nomadic Mongolian livestock agriculture, where increasing stocking rates have put unsustainable pressure on the limited grazing resources now available.

L-R: Image 3: Prof Peter Windsor with Mongolian Vulture, Image 4: Dr Tun Win (Myanmar), Mr Charles Olsson (ME, Aus), Dr Syseng Khounsy (Laos) and Prof Peter Windsor (MLR, Aus). Image 5: an exhibit from the Genghis Khan Museum

During the meeting Peter presented a talk on behalf of the MLR team and Dr Syseng Khounsy of the Lao PDR DLF, on the clinical treatment of FMD using TS. This was in the session from invited research partners, chaired by Dr Khounsy, that also included interesting talks by Cord Heuer from EpiVet at Massey University in NZ on interpretation of serological studies in Laos and Myanmar, plus Wilna Vosloo from AAHL at CSIRO in Geelong on importance of vaccine matching of currently circulating strains to available vaccines. In the presentation by Peter, the recent observations from Laos were discussed, where an easily deliverable and readily affordable pain relief and antisepsis option that is without antimicrobials, was found effective for animals suffering with clinical FMD was discovered. Peter provided background information on the development of TS  as an inexpensive farmer applied ‘spray-on‘ wound formulation registered in Australia for provision of analgesia, antisepsis and reduced healing times, in animals undergoing routine husbandry procedures, including initially mulesing and tail docking in sheep, plus castration, disbudding/dehorning and more recently, treatment of lameness in cattle. In northern Laos, 136 FMD-affected large ruminants with clinical FMD, had TS applied to their lesions, resulting in a rapid improvement in their demeanour and unanimous approval of the treatment by the livestock owners. As TS is without antimicrobials and has a pH of 2.7 it is virucidal, making this treatment a potentially important intervention that may reduce FMD transmission, improve animal welfare, and encourage livestock farmers to report FMD outbreaks as they seek a readily visible pain relief medication for their FMD-affected animals. Provision of TS to countries that see these benefits are in current negotiations.

L-R: Image 6: Mongolian wrestlers prepare for battle by invocation of the eagle; Image 7: Prof Peter Windsor assisting local children herd small ruminants into a fenced area for overnight protection

Our Mongolian hosts, in collaboration with the OIE offices in Bangkok and Tokyo, provided a wonderful experience for the participants attending this SEACFMD meeting, both for technical content and cultural learning. The conference dinner on the 26th was also a highlight that enabled many participants to communicate more freely about their aspirations for improving future food security and improving smallholder farmer livelihoods through managing FMD, ASF and other TBEDs in this most important part of the world (image 8).

Image 8: Delegates at the SEACFMD dinner.

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