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Bosnia and Herzegovina Veterinary Labs Equipped to Diagnose Animal Diseases Using Nuclear-Derived Techniques

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A scientist at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Sarajevo analyzing genome sequences as part of a Joint FAO/IAEA project. (Photo: Veterinary Faculty of the University of Sarajevo)

Bosnia and Herzegovina veterinary authorities are better equipped to protect livestock from several animal diseases spreading in Southeastern Europe, thanks to the support of the IAEA in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This is an important step for food security in the country and for the export of animal products and food to the European Union market, local officials have said.

“Early detection of transboundary animal diseases such as Blue Tongue disease (BT), lumpy skin disease (LSD) and Brucellosis is key to prevent their spread and impact on the economy,” said Ivancho Naletoski, Animal Health Officer at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

Brucellosis has been present on the Balkan peninsula over centuries as an endemic disease of livestock, while BT and LSD have emerged recently. They continuously threaten the lives of farmers, producers, exporters and their families. Brucellosis is transmitted among animals through direct and indirect contact, while BT and LSD are transmitted by blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. All can have a significant effect on animal health and production, as well as on the economic output and international trade of a country.

Traditionally endemic in Africa and Asia, LSD emerged in Turkey in 2013 and has since spread through Southeastern Europe. The IAEA has been supporting Bulgaria and Serbia in halting its spread.

Improving the emergency response capacity of national veterinary laboratories, which are responsible for early detection of these diseases, is essential for Bosnia and Herzegovina to rapidly enforce control measures.

Halting the spread of transboundary animal diseases is a real challenge. In 2012-2014, the IAEA supported the efforts of Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve the diagnostic capacities and control of Brucellosis, a highly contagious disease. The efforts have been partially successful.

“Seven years later, due to the presence of the disease in the country, export of live animals is still not allowed by the EU. However, thanks to the milestone we have just reached in performing diagnostic tests quickly and reliably, we have now made a big step forward to fulfilling the standards of the EU,” said Toni Eterovic, research scientist at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Sarajevo, who took part in the project.

The IAEA, through its technical cooperation programme and the joint FAO/IAEA Divsion, provided advanced equipment and training to laboratory staff, enabling them to read entire genome sequences and identify virus strains. “Thanks to the new equipment and nuclear-derived diagnostic tools, we have reduced by a factor of ten the time required for pathogen analysis and have increased the analysis capacity of the lab,” Naletoski said.

“Together with receiving advanced equipment, we needed to learn new methods to expand the scope of our work,” said Violeta Santrac, veterinary researcher at the Public Veterinary Institute Dr Vaso Butozan, in Banja Luka. With IAEA support, staff of the two institutes received advanced training through nine scientific visits to Germany, Serbia and the United States, as well as five fellowships in Austria and Slovenia.

In the past, the two institutes were not equipped to carry out these diagnostic tests independently and required the support of international reference laboratories, which delayed the time of detection, diagnosis and intervention.

The IAEA provided the laboratories with high-tech laboratory equipment and consumables, enabling the in-depth understanding of the epidemiology of BT and LSD using molecular tools such as whole genome sequencing.

The two laboratories will also be equipped with instrumentation for radiological monitoring, as monitoring of food products from animal origin is required for EU imports.

“Detection of low radiation contamination is critical to prevent long term agregation of radionuclides in the population, especially in children,” explained Naletoski. Contamined milk for example, even at a very small dose, can have serious effects on children’s health if it accumulates in the body.

“The newly established capacities will also be important for us to control the food we import,” said Santrac.

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