It is indeed worrisome that there have been two more outbreaks of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza in Nigeria. The outbreaks were of the H5N1 subtype. In total, there were 7139 deaths from the disease, out of a susceptible population of 9550 across the two farms. The remaining 2414 birds were destroyed to prevent the disease spreading further. One of the affected farms held cockerels and pullets, and the other affected farm held 18 month old layers. The farms are said to have had poor bio-security. The outbreaks took place in the Lagos and Rivers areas.
This is coming nine years after an outbreak of the disease in the country. The bird flu outbreak, which was first recorded in the country in 2006, lingered till 2008 before it was contained. While it lasted, the virus spread rapidly to 97 local government areas in 25 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The outbreak affected over 3,000 farms and led to the destruction of 1.3 million of the country’s estimated 160 million birds before the spread could be arrested.
In fact, Nigeria’s efforts in containing the disease was widely acclaimed such that no one imagined the country would be contending with the same scourge within a decade. The World Bank passed a vote of confidence on the country when its Country Director, Onno Ruhl, singled out Nigeria as a success story among the 84 countries the bank assisted in the containment of the disease. The World Bank boosted Nigeria’s efforts with $50 million provided under the Global Programme for Avian Influenza and Human Pandemic Preparedness and Response. The Nigerian government also disclosed that it paid about ₦630 million in compensation to poultry farmers whose birds were culled during the outbreak of Avian Influenza within the period.
With Nigeria’s experience with Avian Flu in the past, no one expected that the influenza could take the country by surprise anymore. But it just did, for as at February 2, this year the virus had spread to 18 states, putting many Nigerians on edge. As of January 21, 2015, a total of 140,390 birds had reportedly been exposed to bird flu with 22,573 (16 per cent) mortality recorded. Some sources claim the number of birds exposed to the influenza rose to 300,000 while the mortality figure stood at 80,000. Various interventions by the federal and state governments were then embarked upon to contain the scourge, such as depopulation, decontamination and quarantine of farms. Both levels of government also partnered in enforcing restriction of movement of poultry and poultry products, provision of logistics and essential equipment to the state veterinary services as well as registration of poultry farms as provided by the Animal Disease Control Act 10 of 1988.
Given this new resurgence the government ought to be more proactive in dealing with the bird flu issue. With four federal universities of agriculture, faculties of agriculture in many tertiary institutions, and many agriculture research institutes in the country, extensive research should be done to help keep the flu at bay for good. And in the event of outbreaks such as the new ones in Rivers and Lagos, concrete measures should have been in place to minimise the impact such as acquiring relevant drugs and vaccines and developing strategies for tighter border controls. Nigeria cannot afford to expose her 160 million bird population to unnecessary risks because the socio-economic implications of doing so are very grave.
We urge government to embark on more public enlightenment and stakeholders’ sensitisation on how poultry farmers and domestic rearers of birds should imbibe the globally required bio-security measures in view of research findings that links the introduction and spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza to bio-security failures. Nigerians should also be sensitised on safety measures to adopt in the face of the bird flu outbreak. The cooperation of all stakeholders is needed at this point in time as the nation battles to halt the spread of the virus. We believe Nigeria can successfully control the outbreak as it did in the past.
The return of the bird flu should serve as a wakeup call for the country to be proactive in the prevention of not only the familiar H5N1 but also the deadly strain of bird flu such as the H7N9 from getting into the country. The World Health Organisation (WHO) described the H7N9 strain as “an unusually dangerous virus for humans”. It infected more than 100 people within three months after it was reported, and a fifth of those patients died, with many other critically ill. Unlike the H5N1 strain which manifests through high mortality of birds, the H7N9 strain presents no symptoms in the birds. The birds don’t get sick or die, but they infect humans who then fall sick and die. Government should not wait for any deadly strain of bird flu to enter the country before announcing measures to combat it. Our research institutes should be put to task on this issue. The Nigeria Customs Service and the Federal Ministry of Health should also step up control efforts at the nation’s borders with neighbouring countries to ensure that birds or any other livestock coming into the country are certified healthy