Preventing and Eradicating Fish Disease in Indonesia

In 2011, Mochamad Aji Purbayu, "Aji", began working at the Fish Quarantine and Inspection Agency (FQIA), the Indonesian agency that ensures the health, quality, and safety of fishery products for export and import. He worked as a technical cooperation and policy analyst within the foreign cooperation division. In this position, Aji's responsibilities included coordinating the implementation of joint projects with foreign governmental agencies and researching updated policies regarding sanitation for the import and export of fish commodities.

In 2016, Aji decided to apply for the USAID PRESTASI 3 scholarship to help advance his career within FQIA. Aji was accepted into the program and in August 2016 he began studying for his Masters in Comparative Medicine and Integrative Biology at Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

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While pursuing his Master's degree, Aji spent much of his time in his college's Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) researching fish virology. Aji along with his fellow labmates, focused their research on studying the Salmonid herpesvirus-3 (SalHv-3), which has threatened lake trout populations in the Great Lakes for several decades. Their research helped to determine the ability of the virus to be shed from infected fish into the surrounding environment. They found that SalHv-3 is shed into the water by infected lake trout hosts for extended periods of time which allows for the virus to be disseminated in a widespread manner. Their research, which was published in June 2019, also provides information on the host range and the virus's sensitivity to some commonly used disinfectant in aquaculture. This information has contributed to Michigan State University's ongoing efforts to develop effective control strategies for SalHv-3 in the lake trout of the Great Lakes.

Before conducting research at AAHL, Aji did not have previous experience studying virology in depth. However, through the guidance of three of his professors at MSU, Aji began learning the basic principles of virology and gradually progressed to more advanced concepts. By the time he graduated in August 2018, Aji had a strong understanding of molecular virology and cell culture techniques.

Aji returned to his home institution of FQIA excited and motivated to share the knowledge he obtained from his studies in the U.S. Upon his return, Aji was hired as a veterinarian and laboratory analyst within the biology molecular and histopathology lab. There, he has been tasked with leading the fish disease research unit where he and his team complete testing and investigation of fish disease from various samples. According to Aji, "Even though there are no lake trout in a tropical country like Indonesia, the laboratory knowledge I received during my master's program helped to improve my cell culture techniques. Cell culture is a prominent technique when we want to isolate a virus along with its biological characteristics. However, maintaining a cell culture is challenging work due to its need for specialized training, lab tools, as well as knowledge of the principles of virology." Thanks to his experience studying in the U.S., Aji has been able to successfully lead his unit and teach the techniques that he learned at AAHL to his work colleagues.

At FQIA, Aji has also been chosen to support the development of an international laboratory network. Currently, Aji supports the communication between his lab and the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute (YSFRI) in China. Through this partnership, YSFRI conducts knowledge and technology transfers to FQIA and both labs work on joint research. The main goal of this partnership is to prepare Aji's lab to apply to become a World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) designated lab for shrimp disease. This designation would allow for Aji's lab to contribute to the intergovernmental organization's scientific information on shrimp disease which would then be made available to all Member Countries to help them to improve their methods to control and eradicate the disease. This selection would also help to position Indonesia, the world's largest shrimp exporter, to play a more critical role in researching and controlling shrimp disease.

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At FQIA, Aji has gone above and beyond his work responsibilities by creating an agency-wide forum which gives his colleagues the opportunity to meet and discuss scientific issues regarding fish health and disease. Aji shares his knowledge on fish virology and cell culture techniques to the group and works together with the other attendees to create articles for FQIA's scientific magazine.

In addition to his responsibilities at FQIA, Aji has also been invited to speak on the topic of fish virology at several national and international conferences. These include the Asia – Pacific Laboratory Proficiency Testing Program of Fish Disease Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, the International Symposium on Natural Resources-Based Drug in Jakarta, and the ASEAN Veterinary Drug in Aquaculture Conference in Singapore.

Aji has utilized his education in the U.S. under USAID PRESTASI 3 to contribute to important efforts to prevent and eradicate fish disease in Indonesia and across the ASEAN countries. His work will prevent and mitigate fish diseases to ensure the health of those that consume Indonesia's imported and exported fish products and the livelihoods of Indonesian fishers, which depend greatly on the health of the fish they cultivate.