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Nigeria: Bird Flu Confirmed in Three More States

The Nigerian government says tests have confirmed the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has now infected poultry in three more states. The government's handling of the outbreak has been criticized.

The Presidential Committee on the Prevention and Management of Avian Flu in Nigeria says tests have confirmed the existence of bird flu in three more states.

The states are Benue in the central zone as well as Anambra and Rivers in the southeast. An official statement Tuesday, said the affected birds will be destroyed and the farms decontaminated.

This brings to eight the number of states in Nigeria which have reported the presence of the H5N1 virus since the outbreak was confirmed on February 8.

Veterinary personnel in Nigeria have criticized the government's handling of the disease. Dr. Garba Sharubutu is the president of the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association.

"If we adopt a strategy that has a lot of loopholes, were only going to slow the pace of the spread," Dr. Sharubutu says. "We are not likely, through this machinery, going to achieve the total stamping out the government is advocating. It seems there is now a scramble of who controls what. You see the foreigners that came, virtually, over 80 per cent of are agric-related, but in our own case, you have a rapid squad that is made up of human physicians. The weakest part of the disease is in the birds….allow the ministry of agriculture to handle the thing perfectly, stamp out this thing before it reaches the human aspect."

The government Monday began paying compensation to farmers whose poultry has been killed because of bird flu. The authorities are paying 250 naira, or less than two dollars for each bird.

Dr. Sharubutu says the compensation plan is wrong.

"We have always maintained the fact that 250 naira is grossly inadequate because of the likely implications," Dr. Sharubutu says. "People may prefer, rather than wait, to have their bird actually tested, they may decide to sell them off at a rather give-away price especially that the money is coming almost immediately."

Top officials including President Olusegun Obasanjo have initiated high-profile campaigns to revive the eating of chickens and eggs. The president was at a local restaurant this past weekend and had a meal of rice and chicken.

No human cases of the virus have yet been found in Africa but international health experts say urgent steps should be taken to check its spread.