Three years ago the deadly H5N1 strain of the avian
influenza virus landed in Africa, with the first cases reported in poultry
farms in Nigeria. From there, it quickly spread across the continent, reducing
demand for poultry and related products – and wrecking poultry industries.
Eventually, however, it disappeared and dealers are trying to revive their
But experts say the disease is still lurking in some
African countries and could break out any time. They are taking steps to keep
it from spreading across borders. Bird flu monitors say Africa is not entirely
purged of the deadly H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus that wreaked
havoc on the continent's poultry industry for two years beginning in 2006.
The FAO's Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal
Disease [ECTAD] conducted a survey in northern Nigeria last year that revealed
traces of the disease.
They fear another outbreak and are preparing poultry
farmers and dealers to withstand another epidemic through early reporting,
enhanced cross-border communication, and better farming and handling practices.
Dr. Fallou Gueye is a safe poultry production specialist
at the center's regional office in Bamako, Mali. He says to prevent another full-blown
epidemic, the movements of infected live fowl must be monitored and poultry
dealers must be geared up for prevention.
"We consider that there are some movements of
poultry and poultry products, and we want to make sure that major players adopt
the same strategies, the same behavior and that they're equally informed and
exchange information." He says, "No,
there's no scare, but there's a need to build the capacities of stakeholders so
that they can take all the measures they can put in place to make sure that any
disease – it can be avian influenza, but there're also other diseases – do not
enter their bird flocks. We are also extending our activities to other
transboundary animal diseases."
The FAO's Emergency Center for Animal Disease is
partnering with a project sponsored by USAID, STOP Avian Influenza, or STOP AI.
They're holding regional workshops across the continent and encouraging
poultry dealers and governments to be on the alert.
Rachel Tkachuk is an operations specialist for STOP
AI. Recently, she organized one of the workshops in Cameroon. She says the
current threats warrant permanent scrutiny.
"The STOP AI project is stepping out, geared towards
educating people on biosecurity; how to avoid having an outbreak; and, if
there's an outbreak, how to respond to it quickly and effectively. We want to
be sure that folks understood the importance of biosecurity. We certainly got
the impression that people are opening up and learning new things and
discussing among themselves. Now they have contacts in other countries and here
locally where they can reach out if they do have a cross-cultural question,"
Africa's first bird flu cases were detected on a
commercial poultry farm in northern Nigeria in January 2006. Cameroon, which
shares a 1.700 km long border with Nigeria, banned imports of poultry products
from its neighbor and created contingency programs. But within weeks, it became the fourth African
country to be struck when strains of the virus were detected in ducks in the
The looming specter of an epidemic sparked
widespread panic as more cases were spotted in other parts of the country.
Consumers quickly shunned fowls and eggs pushing hundreds of poultry farmers
and traders out of business.
Francois Njonou is secretary general of the
Interprofessional Poultry Association (IPAVIC) and also a poultry farmer in Cameroon's
economic hub, Douala. He says production slumped from 650,000 chickens per week
to less than 50,000, and that many poultry farmers are not able to resurrect
Njonou says inaccurate communication caused an
obsession that wrecked the industry. He says losses evaluated by the
Interprofessional Poultry Association stood at over US $6.3 million. The
association signed a deal with the government last year to disburse funds to
help farmers step up production but Djonou says part of the money has still not
been made available.
During the crisis many poultry farmers hid their
livestock in their rooms. They said they did not get enough compensation for
fowls slaughtered by government agents. Others said bird flu, like AIDS, was
another 'white man's invention' and increased their consumption of chicken and
eggs auctioned in the streets.
Experts warn that governments on the continent are
letting down their guard and concentrating on other issues like the global
financial crisis. In the meantime there are elements in place that could trigger
an epidemic, like porous borders, an unregulated chicken trade and a lack of
financial resources, trained personnel and equipment to quickly detect
Experts say risks of contamination among chickens
and eventually to humans are high. In
Cameroon, almost every rural household keeps a few chickens for meat, eggs,
fertilizer and income. People mix freely with the fowls they keep in backyard
Experts are calling on African governments to conduct
permanent public awareness campaigns as migratory birds -- which also spread
the flu -- enter the country. They are calling on those transporting birds to
check with border police or customs, and encouraging sometimes reluctant
officials to report cases early.