Articles

RP animal health communication

In Current Events, DevCom, Ideas on December 16, 2008 by Jim Tagged: , , , ,

(Partially lifted from my other blog)

A recent ebola outbreak among hogs was recently reported in the Philippines. An ebola virus was confirmed in a subsequent laboratory test in the US and no further outbreaks were reported. Other quarantined animals were confirmed negative of the virus.

‘Fortunately,’ the ebola outbreak among hogs in the Philippines was caused by the low pathogenic ebola reston strain, which does not affect humans. When it was first detected in the US in 1989, it fatally affected monkeys. The suspected monkeys that introduced the virus came from the Philippines. Investigations led to discovery of other outbreaks in the Philippines, which reported it between 1989 and 1990.

The US had a subsequent outbreak in 1996 and it was again traced to monkeys imported from the Philippines. These outbreaks prompted studies to investigate the zoonotic nature of the strain, which was later disproved.

In the current ebola outbreak, Philippine animal health authorities took a while to release the news although it is certain that investigations were continuing after the outbreak was confirmed and strict biosecurity measures in the farms and province reportedly affected were properly imposed.

The Philippine government recently confirmed the ebola outbreak among hogs almost a little more than a month after it was detected. It immediately stopped pig meat exports “as a precautionary measure.” Philippine authorities assured the public that the ebola virus in pigs was not fatal to humans. The Philippine animal and public health authorities again urged the public to buy only government certified meat. Further tests in other farms showed negative results confirming that the ebola outbreak among hogs was an isolated incident.

burning-fmd-infected-animals

Philippine Agriculture officials assured affected farmers of aid and claimed that it will seek international assistance to finally investigate the reservoir of the virus in the country. It has invited international animal health experts and veterinarians to investigate. A Bloomberg report said that international health experts are positive about the recent hog ebola outbreaks will finally lead scientists “to ‘elusive reservoir’ of virus.”

The Philippine’s Department of Agriculture (DA) where the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) is a line agency has a communications unit, the Agriculture and Fisheries and Information Services (AFIS). The AFIS serves a number of bureaus and agencies under the Department (Ministry to other countries), some of which do not have a communications unit of its own. The AFIS assists the bureaus and agencies in drafting of communication strategies or message development on crops, fisheries, livestock among others.

The AFIS manpower and resources, however, is very limited. Priority is given to crops, which makes half of the country’s agriculture sector while livestock is around 12%. Having previously worked for BAI, I noticed that AFIS seems to have a large media relations role for the whole department and also has a big role as such for each bureau, agency or regional field unit of the DA.

Most Filipino animal health authorities would likely preempt public opinion if they hear terms which they feel would result to feeding images such as scenes from the movie Outbreak. The ebola virus causes haemmorhagic ebola fever, which is fatal for humans. This is one crisis that any politicians or health (both public and animal) authorities would not like to have.

It pays to have laid out plans in cases of risk and crisis communication. However, in my work as a communications officer for a foreign assisted project in BAI, it is very frustrating to realise that there is no such plan in place. Risk and crisis communication, let alone animal health comunication, is a reactive activity for the Department (of Agriculture). This attitude towards risk and crisis communication and, by and large, animal health communication, puts a dent to the whole reputation of the Department.

Public trust when betrayed in any crisis will jeopardize any activity that are aimed at minimizing the impact of a potentially damaging crisis such as animal disease outbreaks. The Department has certainly opened up itself to criticisms that it is capable of covering up cases especially if it is ‘just an epizootic disease.’ No report, no crisis?

The Department has been a recipient of a number of technical assistance from foreign governments to non-government organizations. These assistance range from veterinary capacity, biosecurity, laboratory management, including communications, however, it seems that the communications part was not a priority that they still fall into the trap of tripping in an impending crisis.

The Department has had a number of reports regarding programs on the control of significant outbreaks (from FMD to suspected HPAI ) in the Philippines with, probably, lessons learned as a significant section in these reports. However, the current action of the Department to this crisis shows that these reports were merely submitted for formality’s sake. The training received by staff might have gone down the drain as the top level management has yet to act on the recommendations, especially animal health communication, that is institutionalize it in the national programs and follow it as they will follow biosecurity guidelines.

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One Response to “RP animal health communication”

  1. Thanks to our government officials who always there to protect our society.

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