Poor management responsible for bird flu resurgence

It is a potentially devastating disease, predominantly of chickens and turkeys, although the virus can also affect game birds (pheasants, partridge and quail), ratites (ostrich and emu), psittacine and passerine birds.

Currently, Poultry farmers are groaning under the burden of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu), ravaging poultry farms across the country. The disease is reportedly spread by migratory wild birds and movement of infected birds and products, which can have serious socio-economic, public health, as well as security implications. Experts say the disease can kill all birds in a poultry farm and can cause 100 per cent mortality.

That high mortality of birds are recorded in some poultry farms and markets is to say the least, as farmers have plunged into debt, while others have been forced to close to shops.

Bird flu is a highly contagious viral disease, initially of birds but affects other animal species and humans. It is a potentially devastating disease, predominantly of chickens and turkeys, although the virus can also affect game birds (pheasants, partridge and quail), ratites (ostrich and emu), psittacine and passerine birds.

It is caused by an orthomyxovirus, or influenza virus and can survive for considerable lengths of time outside of the host and birds are infected through contact with other birds, mechanical vectors, such as vehicles, equipment and personnel travelling between farms, markets and abattoirs.

The disease was first reported in Nigeria in 2006, but it was completely eradicated within two years, until January 2015 when it was reported in live bird markets in Lagos and some farms in Kano.

But despite government’s reported efforts at eliminating the disease, for one year now, the country has consistently experienced Avian Influenza, as a result of several predisposing factors and policies, leading to its persistence in the country.

After efforts to control its spread early this year, last month, the Federal Government confirmed its resurgence in seven states-Kaduna, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, Nasarawa, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Plateau, covering 123 local government areas and 800 poultry farms.

In Kano State alone, no fewer than 13,000 birds, from nine farms have been confirmed killed by the bird flu. The state’s Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Shehu Bawa, who disclosed this said the number of fresh casualties only accounted for cases officially reported and documented at the ministry, noting that the affected farms had since been depopulated to check further spread.

The Guardian learnt that one of the factors responsible for resurgence of the disease is government’s failure to compensate farmers whose birds were affected.
This was confirmed by the Chairman of the Lagos Chapter of Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), Dr. Alao Mobolaji, who told The Guardian that the resurgence is largely due to poor management of recent outbreaks. He noted that the management of the 2014 outbreak was so poor that the disease spread from Kano to Lagos and then to 26 other states, leading to destruction of over three million poultry across the country.

“These three million was what was reported officially, if we decide to compute many others that were not accounted for, either due to ignorance or stigma, we could be counting as much as much as five million poultry. The summary of this is that the outbreak has been poorly managed by the government agencies responsible for this via the federal ministry of agriculture.”

It was learnt that as of June, Kano, Ebonyi and other affected states were yet to receive compensation, a major factor responsible for failure of other poultry farmers facing the scourge to kill their affected birds.

In Kano, according to Secretary of the Poultry Farmers Association (PFA), Umar Kibiya Umar, the last time farmers received compensation was in 2015, noting that the money was paid in part. “No money was paid in 2016, let alone the recent cases. In 2015 and 2016, 136 farms were affected in which over one million birds were lost.

“To set the records straight, the Federal Government paid N330m as part payment in 2015, leaving N437m to balance our members for the two years.” Umar registered their grouse with government for failing to settle a backlog of compensation to farmers who lost millions of birds to earlier outbreak.

In Ebonyi, 20 poultry farmers affected by the December 2016 bird flu attack are still awaiting compensation. If the assurance of the state’s Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Uchenna Orji, is to be taken serious, government would do the needful this month.

To curtail its spread, the Administrative Secretary, Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Oyo State Chapter, Olugbenga Samuel, said the body has commenced sensitisation of all members to beef-up bio-security operation in their various farms.

“Secondly, the Federal Government has not given us the go-ahead to vaccinate birds for this disease, because we believe that immediately we begin to vaccinate, it means the disease has come to stay in Nigeria and most times we have vaccination failure. To some extent presently, we are taking every step to curtail its spread, for example bio-security, by trying to minimise its effect, making a barricade in and around our poultries, unless you have something to do there before we give you access to the place.”

On its part, Ebonyi State government organised a training programme for poultry farmers on ways of preventing and handling incidences of the disease. Director of Veterinary Services, Ibiam Okoro said both the Federal and state governments have mandated state ministries of agriculture through their veterinary departments, to take measures to prevent and contain avian influenza.

He noted that the enforcement of the directive was imperative because of the negative attitude of poultry farmers who place undue emphasis on profit making than ensuring the health and general wellbeing of citizens and their poultry produce.

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