Nigeria Makes Some Progress in Preventing Bird Flu

Avian flu was detected in Africa 2006 when cases were confirmed at poultry farms in Nigeria. The news sparked fears that the conditions in Africa - poverty, porous borders and the lack of any regulation in the poultry markets - could combine to produce an avian influenza pandemic. Instead, a rapid response to the outbreak, the implementation of bio-security measures and more than a little luck has limited the spread of the disease.

At the Nana poultry farm in the northern Nigerian state of Kano, visitors are not welcome.

"We tell people that the farm is not a zoo. If you want to come in just for a look, go to the zoo," said the farm's owner, Muhammad Adamu. He lost more than 22,000 chickens in 2006. His farm was one of more than 50 that were depopulated in Nigeria that year because of bird flu. 

Since then, he and other major poultry producers have implemented a number of measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Visitors are not only limited, but anyone entering the farm must be disinfected. 

Adamu says he also buys birds from secure sources and constantly monitor the poultry for any sign of the disease. "Once bitten, twice shy. Once it happened we were told that the most important aspect of the business, if we want to be safe, is to be bio-security conscious," he said.

Bashir Sarki is the avian influenza desk officer in Kano State, He says now that the government has increased compensation for any losses, poultry producers are quick to report possible bird flu cases.  "That has been central too, I think, one of the reasons why we have less and less cases," he speculates. "People tend to report early and that will make us stamp this infection within that particular area very early."

But the danger of avian influenza spreading through unregulated poultry markets remains high.

Here in Kano, the government is training teams of monitors to recognize and respond to early sights of the disease. "But in the market you can never be sure," notes Yahaya Tanko.

One such team led by Federal Livestock Agent Tanko found conditions at the Kano live bird market conducive to the spread of bird flu. Geese and other wild birds were kept in close proximity to chickens. 

Cages containing different species were stacked so that birds on top dropped feces and feathers onto birds underneath. Poultry was processed in extremely unsanitary conditions near live birds. And food was cooked and sold in the middle of the market.
"When you go back to your local governments," Tanko said, "You should advise your chairman not to turn your markets into poultry houses."

Muhammad Idriss chairs the Kano Poultry Sellers Association. He says he welcomes government guidance to improve conditions. "We need to change our attitude," he says. "It is in our best interests."

But he says most vendors won't change until the government imposes regulations to force the market to act in its own best interest. 

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