FAO trains online 350 field veterinarians from the Balkans on African swine fever preparedness
01 June 2020
1 June 2020, Budapest, Hungary – Although the media attention is all about a human pandemic, African swine fever (ASF) is still a very pressing issue. Rampaging through three continents, never before in history had the disease such a wide distribution with so many millions of animals affected. The disease comes with huge economic costs, considerable trade disruptions and is seriously affecting rural livelihoods.
Within Europe, the disease has progressively spread all the way from Georgia, where it entered in 2007, into Central Europe, infecting most countries in its path. Today, the disease is already present in the Balkans, with Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece reporting outbreaks, threatening to spread throughout the whole Balkan region.
To help with preparedness, FAO is launching today an online training in Serbian language, involving 350 animal health practitioners from the Balkans (including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia). It will run through six weeks in July and August. Veterinary services in the Balkan region were invited to submit nominations for the course. This training follows a successful pilot course (November 2019) and an English course for European countries (April–May 2020). Russian and Spanish language versions are also planned for later this year.
“To optimize preparedness, early detection and response against an African swine fever incursion, it is paramount to reach and train the first responders: the veterinarians; as many as possible,” said Daniel Beltrán-Alcrudo, FAO animal health specialist. “The Balkans are at a high and imminent risk of African swine fever incursion and should prepare accordingly,” he added.
To facilitate preparedness, FAO started by standardizing training materials, including presentations, guidelines, and other materials, which allows in the event of an emergency, quick translations, adaptation to countries’ specifics, and roll out reaching most veterinarians through training-of-trainer (cascade approaches). Such approach has already proven effective in the Balkans in 2018–2019.
However, even with cascade trainings, FAO could not cope with the huge and growing demand for ASF training coming from both infected and at risk countries.
Therefore, it was decided to move into an online format, building on its obvious advantages: it is easy and cost-effective to scale up, can reach hundreds of people even in remote locations (as long as an internet connection is available), and allows trainees to learn at their own pace, at the most convenient time. In the time of COVID-19 travel and meeting restrictions, online learning becomes even more valuable.
For the curricula, FAO’s Manual on ASF Detection and Diagnosis (available in Serbian and Macedonian) was used and further enhanced. The content was created by a team of ASF external and in-house experts, including the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, Lithuanian Veterinary Services and inputs from FAO Reference Centre for ASF at INIA-CISA. The materials were then converted thanks to EuFMD’s know-how to adapt and deliver animal health trainings in an online format. Now this has been translated into Serbian.
The tutored course is structured around seven training modules that cover a range of topics: such as the impact of the disease, clinical and laboratory diagnosis, epidemiology, outbreak investigation, control measures, biosecurity, and ASF in wild boar. The course starts with a webinar explaining how the training will be conducted and introduces the trainers through short technical presentation. Trainers are experts in either diagnostics, epidemiology or control of ASF. Participant can access training materials, discussion forum, recordings of the webinars and a list of further resources and reading.
As the course is open for a duration of six weeks, each week a specific topic is covered using a discussion forum, where participants and trainers can discuss and interact. Trainers post questions to challenge participants and deepen their understanding of the course material.
The course ends with a final course assessment and a closing webinar covering topics that were either difficult for participant or have sparked most discussion in the forum. Participants who finish all required tasks and pass the final course assessment are awarded a certificate. Finally, through the feedback section, participants can provide suggestions for further improvement.