Avian flu is currently spreading across countries of the world, posing threat to poultry business especially in Nigeria CHIKA IZUORA writes.
Avian influenza refers to a disease caused by infection with avian (Bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses.
These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.
Humans can also be infected with avian and other zoonotic influenza viruses, such as avian influenza virus subtypes, A(H5N1), and A(H7N9) and swine influenza virus subtypes A(H1N1) and (H3N2).
From current statistics, the Nigerian poultry industry is huge promising great potentials in terms of job creation and return on investment.
It is also estimated that the country’s poultry industry holds about N80 billion in investment and is comprised of approximately 165 million birds, producing 650,000 metric tonnes, MT, of eggs and 29,000MT of poultry meat.
From a market size perspective, Nigeria’s egg production is the largest in Africa followed by South Africa which produce 540,000 MT of eggs and it has the second largest chicken population after South Africa’s 200 million birds, according to Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO of the United Nations, UN.
Nigeria’s poultry sector is extremely fragmented with most of the chicken raised in ‘backyards’ or on poultry farms with less than 1,000 birds.
But there are a large number of commercial players in the sector most of whom are located in the South- West.
Avian flu threat is not new in Nigeria, and despite the significant loss recorded during previous experience, experts are afraid that preventive measures are not adequately put in place to avert its presence.
Nigeria in 2006 recorded its first case of AI, avian influenza in a commercial farm located in Kaduna state. World Organisation for Animal Health, said the incident caused 227,514 cases and 222,780 deaths from 2006-200z.
In January, 2015 federal government also confirmed a second outbreak of the disease in Kano and Lagos states.
According to Poultry Association of Nigeria, PAN, as at June 2015, the total number of depopulated birds was 1.4 million belonging to 437 farmers across 18 states.
To curtail the resurgence of the disease the government partnered the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, to organise training sessions for poultry stakeholders and has collaborated with PAN to ensure that increased biosecurity measures are put in place at farms.
It was learnt that government has set asid N600 million, fund as compensation for affected farmers.
Beginning from 2017, a number of countries have reported cases of the disease, from Europe to Asia and indeed Africa.
The World Health Organisation, WHO, disclosed that nearly 40 countries have reported new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry or wild birds since November.
In China, H7N9 strains of bird flu have been infecting both birds and people, with the of human cases rising in recent weeks due to the peak of the flu season there.
According to the WHO, more than 900 people have been infected with H7N9 bird flu since it emerged in early 2013.
In birds, latest data from the Organization for Animal Health, OIE, should that outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian flu have been detected in Britain, Italy, Kuwait and Bangladesh in the last few days alone.
Russia’s agriculture watchdog issued a statement describing the situation as “extremely tense” as it reported H5N8 flu outbreaks in another four regions. Hungarian farmers have had to cull 3 million birds, mostly geese and ducks.
These come on top of epidemics across Europe and Asia which have been ongoing since late last year, leading to mass culling of poultry in many countries.
Strains currently documented as circulating in birds include H5N8 in many parts of Europe as well as in Kuwait, Egypt and elsewhere, and H5N1 in Bangladesh and India.
In Africa which experts say is especially vulnerable to missing flu outbreak warning signs due to limited local government capacities and weak animal and human health services H5N1 outbreaks have been reported in birds in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Niger and Togo. H5N8 has been detected in Tunisia and Egypt, and H7N1 in Algeria.
The United States has, so far this year, largely escaped bird flu, but is on high alert after outbreaks of H5N2, a highly pathogenic bird flu, hit farms in 15 states in 2015 and led to the culling of more than 43 million poultry.
Uganda, has reported a H5 type of avian influenza, according to the latest reports to the OIE.
The specific type of the virus has not yet been determined, so it is not yet known whether it is the H5N8 strain that has been causing problems all over Europe and recently spread to Nigeria.
Twenty cases in birds and seven deaths in the Masaka region of Uganda, dating from 2 January, were reported to the OIE in the past week, but 30,000 village birds were listed as susceptible. A further report described hundreds of cases in white-winged terns in Wasiko and Masaka.
However, comments from Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries indicate the problem may be larger: “There are still continuous deaths of wild ducks and birds along the shores and islands of Lake Victoria in Masaka and Wakiso districts,” the Ministry said.
“In Masaka alone, wild and domestic birds are dying at alarming numbers and in Lutembe wetland white-winged terns are the ones dying. This is already a big threat to over thirty million domestic poultry in Uganda which calls for an urgent response to control the spread of the disease from wild birds to domestic birds.”
Neighbouring countries Kenya and Rwanda have reportedly banned imports of poultry productions from Uganda as a result.
However, response by Nigerian government on the latest threat according to expert should be firmed up with action plant to mitigate spread.
At the moment, only one outbreak of H5N8 has been reported by Nigeria to the OIE, and that was in a small flock of 250 birds in Kano state.
The National Consultative Meeting on Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) recently took place in Abuja, with all State Commissioners of Agriculture and Directors of Veterinary Service, and was initiated by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The officials met to review past experiences and arrive at agreeable and implementable preventive measures against bird flu, the Ministry revealed on its Twitter account.
Other issues examined included insurance for the poultry industry, sustainable and participatory cost sharing and compensation for affected farmers.
Effective regulation of the poultry industry and adherence to biosecurity and hygienic practices also formed part of the discussions.
Some challenges identified include lack of compliance with on-farm quarantine measures and movement restriction of infected poultry, violation of bio-security measures which leads to rapid spread of the disease to other areas and states, and the reluctance of some poultry farmers to register with State Veterinary services for easy monitoring and regulation, amongst others.