400 pigs dead as swine fever hits Lilongwe

Malawi’s capital Lilongwe has been hit by African swine fever, which has led one of the farmers to lose an entire swarm of about 400 pigs worth more than K5 million (about $13 888).

While about 235 of the pigs died on their own due to the outbreak that hit Kwiyula Kwisa Farm on the Lilongwe-Mchinji Road almost three weeks ago, veterinary officials were on Thursday forced to slaughter the remaining 167 pigs as a way of controlling the spread of the outbreak.

But in an interview, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security spokesperson Sarah Tione dismissed fears of a national outbreak of the fever, saying that so far, apart from Lilongwe’s Mpingu Extension Planning Area (EPA), the other case of the outbreak was reported in Thyolo.

Said Tione: “The ministry has been informed of the situation and is aware of the outbreak. So far, we are taking all the measures to manage the situation.”

Tione said as a viral infection, African swine fever, which affects pigs and mostly leads to mass deaths of the animals, is common during the rainy season when the soil is dump.

Farm owner Wellings Simwela, who was visibly concerned as the veterinary officials slaughtered the remaining swarm, estimated that he has lost about K5 million.

Concerned about the likely disastrous effects and spread of the fever, after noting the problem, Simwela took the initiative to inform veterinary officials to destroy the swarm.

Said Simwela: “This is really a setback to my business. There are a number of farmers who have this problem but do not want to report for fear of losing out, but in the end, the effect is disastrous. This fever can destroy a number of pigs in an area for a short period. To me, I said [it is] better to lose at one farm rather than have it spread.”

He said the problem hit the farm around January 15 when one pig died, but thereafter, he observed that the pigs were dying in huge numbers on a daily basis. Since the first day, almost 235 pigs have died with 53 of them dying in between Wednesday and Thursday.

Lilongwe Agricultural Development Division (Ladd) animal health officer Dr. Joseph Nkhoma commended Simwela for reporting the outbreak to authorities.

He said after the first case was reported, the ADD immediately imposed a ban on the sale and transportation of live pigs and pork in the area and said although the pigs have been destroyed,  the ban will still remain for almost a month to monitor the situation.

The ADD also mobilised a mobile public address van which has been sensitising communities to avoid eating pork.

African swine fever, which this time was first reported in Thyolo, is not a direct danger for human health and does not threaten other animal species. It only affects pigs and wild boar.

However, according to Dr. Nkhoma, it can impact people’s livelihoods and economic welfare of farmers because of the massive deaths as it can wipe an entire swarm at a farm within a few days.

Dr. Nkhoma said there is no vaccine or treatment against the disease.

The virus that causes the disease can be transmitted by animal and meat movements, vehicles that have passed  through contaminated areas and people who consume affected pork or visit an area where there is an outbreak.

The disease can be prevented mainly through killing of the affected pigs and potentially affected pigs nearby.

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