West Africa: Countries step up measures to combat bird flu (Agence France Presse, Daily Trust, and Ghanaian Chronicle)

| December 3, 2007

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Three West African countries that have been hit by bird flu recently announced new measures to stave off the spread of the disease.

The most dangerous strain of bird flu, H5N1, first reached Africa in January 2006, when an outbreak was detected in Nigeria. Fears of the disease resurfaced in April of this year when an infected chicken was found in Ghana.

Côte D’Ivoire reported two cases of bird flu last year, but has since kept the disease at bay by closely guarding its borders. The government recently banned imports of poultry and poultry products from Great Britain, after reports of a new outbreak there. Côte D’Ivoire also maintains a ban on poultry products from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo – all of which reported cases of bird flu earlier this year.

Nigeria has been less successful in combating the disease, with outbreaks of bird flu reported in 35 states and the federal capital territory of Abuja. To help Nigeria in its struggle to contain the disease, the Chinese government has donated almost 600,000 US dollars, or 400,000 Euros, to buy laboratory and disinfection equipment, and an incinerator.

The H5N1 bird flu is a serious concern because it can be passed from birds to humans. To date, over 200 people around the world have died from the disease. One person in Nigeria is reported to have died from bird flu in the only case of bird flu death reported in sub-Saharan Africa. However, experts worry that the disease could mutate and become transmissible from person-to-person, at which point it would become far more dangerous.

Meanwhile, the deputy director of veterinary services for Ghana, Dr. George Opoku-Pare, says that live birds in marketplaces and unhygienic slaughtering conditions put people at risk. He has called for a national plan for the slaughtering of fowls to help prevent future outbreaks of bird flu in the country, but did not detail when such a plan would be implemented.

Currently, bird flu remains a health concern and a serious threat to the livelihoods of poultry farmers. The control of outbreaks requires massive culling of any birds that may be infected and leaves farmers waiting for government compensation that may or may not come.