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Bird Flu outbreak costs farmers N1.8bn

Bird-Flu

The present outbreak of Avian Influenza virus, otherwise known as Bird Flu, (which mostly afflicts birds) and has been recorded in 24 states including Abuja, and has caused damages valued over N1.8 billion from the destruction of 2.7million birds so far. 

Furthermore, in international trade, Iraq has announced a ban on poultry products from Nigeria (among other countries) over the Bird Flu outbreak, a move which harms Nigeria’s plans to diversify from its over-dependence on oil revenue. 

In February 2015, the Federal Government had expressed its resolve to eradicate Bird Flu in Nigeria. However, the declaration did not seem to translate into action, as Bird Flu incidents were recorded in different parts of Nigeria in every month of 2015 with the exception of April, which did not seem to have any known cases. 

The resurgence of the epidemic that is now on the increase is indicative of failure to nip the virus in the bud, experts say.   

Experts have also acknowledged the possibility of a relationship between the incessant viral outbreaks and global warming. 

Lassa fever has been a recent topical health concern. But just before that, there was the Ebola virus and now the Zika virus which is presently creating a scare in the Americas, and the Bird flu virus, which is also resurfacing in Nigeria. 

The Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) has expressed displeasure at the perceived lackadaisical attitude of government towards the present outbreak of Bird Flu in the country. 

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development reports on its website that it has “in collaboration with Animal Health Department of the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) Agriculture Secretariat, commenced a series of sensitisation meetings in the FCT Area Councils, to educate poultry farmers and sellers on bio-security measures for the containment and control of Bird flu in the Territory, in view of the recent outbreak of the disease in three different farms in the FCT.” 

The Chief Veterinary Officer of the Federation, Egejura Eze, also warned farmers of the dangers in concealing information on the health status of their poultry farms, so as to save the poultry industry from total ruin. 

This is however received with mixed reactions, as some people are of the opinion that government’s efforts at sensitisation should not be limited to the FCT, as several states are also involved. These include Enugu, a recent casualty, with the destruction of N140 million worth of birds.

Eze is also reported to have said the government would not allow illegality and impunity to continue in the poultry industry. She bemoaned the rise of unregistered poultry farms by some people who by-pass the veterinary officers in the states and local councils, but come forward to be compensated by the government for losses incurred during an outbreak of bird flu. 

Experts who spoke to BusinessDay said emphasis should be placed on curbing the spread of the virus, and that those who fail to register, should know the losses are solely theirs to bear. 

Bird flu presently has no cure, a point reiterated by animal care experts who spoke with BusinessDay. However, while there is vaccination for bird flu, the government’s policy in Nigeria is for farmers not to vaccinate.

Speaking with BusinessDay, Tunde Ifemade, head of products at Animal Care Limited, says “vaccination is presently not an option in Nigeria, as far as bird flu outbreak is concerned.” 

Ifemade further explains that this is a result of government policy, which has been put in place over the years.

His position is supported by Omolade Oladele, a professor in the Avian flu and diseases unit of Veterinary Medicine Department, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

Oladele explains that, “While there is vaccination, the government’s policy is not to vaccinate. The vaccine itself is a virus, just that the strength has been reduced, and when the vaccine is used, the virus is being concentrated in the environment.” 

She further observes that with the use of vaccines, “many times people will bring in a strain of virus that was not previously in existence, and we have another type coming up.”

She also noted that any country that permits the use of vaccination “must have a programme to mop up after some time”, by so doing, avoiding outbreak of new viruses or strains. 

So poultry farmers are advised to increase their sanitation in and around the farm; they are encouraged to patronize good disinfectants and sanitizers.   

Bio-security is described as the most important way to contain the spread of Bird flu virus. It entails the prevention of pathogenic organisms from entering a farm premise. 

While Ifemade emphasises the need to improve sanitation in and around farms, Oladele further suggests bio-security measures such as disinfectant dips which vehicles entering farm premises should go through, as well as perimeter fencing for all farms, to prevent other organisms which may cross in with viral pathogens. 

BusinessDay investigations have identified information flow, as a major problem in combating the Bird Flu scourge. 

While the main page of the ministry of agriculture’s website has a recent update on Bird flu, the unit primarily responsible for combating the disease; Department of Animal Production and Husbandry Services, lacks information on the scourge.

In the face of the present outbreak, it is alarming to find the most recent information on the website was published on October 14, 2015.

Its last update on Bird Flu was published on October 7, 2015 and it was based on the Federal Government’s compensation for poultry farmers. A check on the veterinary services section of the website did not yield anything. different.

Caleb Ojewale