PORT-AU-PRINCE – A deadly pig virus is spreading in Haiti and has so far killed thousands of animals. The first cases of Teschen disease were discovered in February in the Artibonite region. But the highly contagious disease has since spread to the Bas Plateau Central as well as the Southeast, North and West departments according to the Secretary of State for Animal Production, Michel Chancy.
Porcine Encephalomyelitis, commonly called Teschen after the town in the Czech Republic where it was first discovered, poses no risk to humans or to other animals. But in a country where pigs represent a crucial investment for peasants, their loss is a terrible economic blow. “It’s like a peasant’s bank account,” says Dr. Max Millien, Head of Haiti’s Animal Health Service. “A peasant fattens his pig and when he needs ready money to send his kids to school or to pay for a funeral, he sells it.”
While Dr. Millien says the government does not have the resources to measure the full extent of the disease’s toll, in some parts of Artibonite that were studied, approximately one third of the pigs were infected, and 20 to 25 percent of those died.
While there is no cure for the disease, Haiti, with the help of the Food and Agriculture Organization, has been scouring the globe to find the vaccine – so far without any success. Dr Millien says they’ve reached out to 42 laboratories and none of them produce it anymore.
Dr Millien says that for many industrialized countries Teschen “is thought of as a disease of the past, and because it’s a disease of the past, laboratories aren’t interested in producing the vaccine.”
Another more promising source might come from a nearby lab in the Dominican Republic or in Cuba which, with FAO support, might be able to produce the vaccine,s says Dr. Millien.
As they work on locating a source for the vaccine, the Ministry of Agriculture is advising its veterinarians on how to not inadvertently spread the disease when they go from farm to farm – something that happened earlier this year. Meanwhile a public service campaign broadcast on community radio stations is advising peasants to limit the exposure of their animals to humans and other pigs.