Preparing for fieldwork
An update from the Myanmar Pig Partnership
It's the rainy season in Yangon region, Myanmar ...
... and a worrying time for farmer U Myint.
U Myint is a respected small farmer. He keeps several pigs in outhouses adjacent to the bamboo house in which he lives with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandchild.
Other pig-farmers regularly come to him to ask his advice about livestock care.
However, each year U Myint himself loses around 30 piglets just before and during the rains. This year he has only four surviving piglets, and he is fearful that they too may not survive.
U Myint is a very careful farmer. He keeps assiduous notes about the care and treatments he provides for his animals. And he is keen to discuss solutions to his problems with the team from the Myanmar Pig Partnership, a research project which includes scientists from Myanmar's Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department (LBVD), the University of Cambridge and Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Vietnam.
However, U Myint is not well off and he, like other Myanmar backyard and small pig-farmers, has insufficient knowledge or access to knowledge about the diseases that can affect his pigs and his pigs' meat, including those known as zoonoses that can affect people too.
Researchers from the Myanmar Pig Partnership will be collecting samples from farms such as U Myint's to learn more about how the bacteria that we know affect pigs, pig meat and people in other parts of the world are presenting in populations of pigs and pig meat in Myanmar.
The research is multidisciplinary and social scientists in the Partnership from the Institute of Development Studies, UK, will be talking to the farmers and others involved in producing and selling pig meat to learn more about people's understandings of pig care and pig disease, as well as the routes that pig meat takes from the farm to the consumer in Myanmar.
The Partnership will be working with LBVD, community animal health workers and local veterinary officers to collect samples from animals which show no evidence of disease. Tonsil and rectal swabs will be be obtained quickly while pigs are securely tethered; saliva will be extracted from a cotton rope hung in pig enclosures and on which the animals like to chew (this is an alternative to more invasive blood sampling); and faeces will be obtained from the floor of pig enclosures.
All the samples collected will be taken back to LBVD's laboratory, now being significantly upgraded with new equipment under the Myanmar Pig Partnership.
The revamped laboratory will provide sustainable, international-standard wet microbiology support services for Myanmar. It will enable bacteria from samples to be isolated and identified, as well as other microbiological and serological tests to be carried out.
An aim of the Partnership is to build long-term regional capacity in diagnostic and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) support for surveillance. It is being achieved with tremendous support from the team at LBVD, which is supervising the renovation while ensuring that routine lab work continues uninterrupted in temporary lab facilities elsewhere.
The disturbance to routine work is worthwhile; the research is important. Demand for pig meat in Myanmar is growing at an unprecedented rate, with the country expected to show the world's biggest growth in pig production to 2030.
The growth in demand for pig meat is being accompanied by greater intensification of pig production in the backyards and small farms of Myanmar, and this is expected to lead to an increase in the diseases that affect pigs and can spread from pigs to people.
These zoonotic diseases can lead to illnesses and death in people. They also impact severely on people's livelihoods as a result of the lowered productivity from sick pigs.
The Myanmar Pig Partnership is exploring the zoonotic disease risk thought to be accompanying the changing patterns of pig production and consumption in Myanmar. As part of this it will also be looking at the use of antibiotics and how an increased use of antibiotics, both in feed and administered directly by farmers, may be exacerbating antimicrobial resistance - a challenge of global proportions.
The team will look at methods that it is hoped will result in the safer production of healthy pig meat that is both cost-effective and sustainable.
In this way we hope to bring benefits to Myanmar consumers and, importantly, to all those like U Myint and his family who are helping to meet the increased demand for pig meat in Myanmar, and whose health and livelihoods remain most at risk from zoonotic diseases.
The Myanmar Pig Partnership