Bird flu: concern grows over possible spread in West Africa
Compensation schemes would encourage poor farmers to report immediately
17 February 2006, Rome – FAO today expressed growing concern that the bird flu virus H5N1 may spread to other countries in West Africa following the discovery of the virus in Nigeria last week. The effects on a region already facing severe malnutrition would be devastating, the UN agency warned.
“We should provide incentives to poor African farmers to report immediately if they suspect an outbreak among poultry, and discourage them from rushing to sell birds on the market,” said Joseph Domenech, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer, who is currently in Nigeria with a joint FAO/OIE team of experts.
The country of greatest concern is Niger, which directly borders the affected areas in Nigeria and where over two million people are already vulnerable to acute hunger.
“The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus poses a very serious threat to animal health in West Africa. If a poultry epidemic should develop beyond the boundaries of Nigeria the effects would be disastrous for the livelihoods and the food security of millions of people,” said Domenech.
The agency noted that since the first reports of H5N1 outbreaks in Asia at the end of 2003 nearly 200 million domestic poultry have died or been culled in order to contain its spread. The economic loss to the economy of affected Asian countries has been estimated around US$10 billion.
Urgently needed prevention measures
In contrast to Europe, where most poultry production takes place on large commercial farms, in Africa poultry is often raised in backyards and is therefore more difficult to control. Widespread public awareness campaigns regarding safe farming practises and improved hygiene are essential to help contain the spread of the virus.
"People need to be informed about the importance of basic hygiene notably washing hands after touching poultry and disinfecting boots or shoes before entering or leaving a poultry farm. They should also be aware of suitable farming practices such as ensuring that poultry are roofed-in to avoid any contact with wild birds and not mixing chickens with other species, such as ducks," said Juan Lubroth, Senior Officer of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division.
FAO has advised veterinary authorities in Nigeria to stamp out the outbreaks through immediate humane culling and safe disposal and to strictly control the movement of people and animals from and to infected areas and neighbouring countries.
Many countries, including Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mauritania have prepared bird flu contingency plans. “Such plans and field operations must be fully supported by national governments with participation of the private sector. The international community should continue to provide expertise and financial resources,” Lubroth said.
At the Beijing Pledging Conference in mid January 2006 the international community pledged a total of US$ 1.9 billion. The World Bank estimates that a human influenza pandemic caused by a virus mutated from avian flu could cost the global economy US$ 800 billion per year.
Information Officer, FAO
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