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Bird flu: 299 farms hit as debate over vaccination lingers

The re-emergence of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) virus in January 2021 ended Nigeria’s comparatively lengthy period of silence on the virus…

The re-emergence of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) virus in January 2021 ended Nigeria’s comparatively lengthy period of silence on the virus scourge from 2019.

However, the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Vom, Plateau State, confirmed outbreaks of the disease in four states (Lagos, Delta, Osun, and Bayelsa) three months ago.

The federal government has now reported an unexpected increase in the number of outbreaks of the disease, which is highly contagious and lethal, particularly in domestic poultry.

According to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the number of farms affected as of January 6, 2023, has reached 299 in 28 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

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The data also shows that the federal government depopulated a total of N1.6 million (1,638,832) birds throughout these farms. However, the total number of birds exposed to the disease was 2.01 million.

According to the data, so far, the number of crates of eggs destroyed on these farmers was 118,779 as of last weekend.

With the depopulation of affected birds and the quantity of eggs destroyed, the government will seek N484.12 million (N484,121,837.23) in compensation, a figure that is projected to rise as the disease ravages farms.

Over the past year, parts of Africa have been hit by an unprecedented worldwide outbreak of bird flu infections that has also killed more than 100 million birds in Europe and the US alone.

Dr Maimuna Abdullahi Habib, the Director/Chief Veterinary Officer Nigeria, said the bird flu has now become endemic all over the world.

“We have met at regional and international levels, and we have decided that the government of Nigeria should change its policy from no vaccination to vaccination,” she said.

That call, she said, necessitated a meeting of the stakeholders with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, to evaluate a shift from a policy of “no vaccination” to vaccination.”

The chief veterinary officer said the vaccination policy has been adopted in other countries and is helping a lot to curtail the disease.

She stated that the country has people on the borders to restrict the movement of birds internationally and that there is a need to deploy quick response teams in states, particularly Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, and Yobe, in view of the significant epidemic of HPAI in Niger Republic.

Similarly, stakeholders have called on Kano, being a commercial hub, to also be on alert.

Debate on vaccination

To discuss the possibility of reviewing the policy on control measures put in place by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) for the bird flu, the Chief Veterinary Officer of Nigeria, Dr Maimuna, convened a high-level poultry stakeholders’ meeting with the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Mohammed Mahmood Abubakar, on Friday, January 6, 2023.

Key poultry industry players like the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Turner Wright, Adamore, Boehringer Ingelheim, Olam, Chi, Zartek, Obasanjo Farms, among others, also attended the meeting.

Although many farmers advocated vaccination, others, including Obasanjo Farms and Olam, voiced concern about abuse; and which vaccines should be distributed in the country, and by who.

The need for adequate controls and regulations in the handling and administration of HPAI vaccinations, should they ever be evaluated, was also discussed by the experts.

The Daily Trust discovered that there is disagreement about vaccination policy even within the ministry. There are experts in the veterinary and pest control division who are of the opinion that vaccination will make eradication, which is every government’s goal, challenging.

They argue that control will be difficult, resulting in an influx of poor vaccines, virus mutation issues, and the rise of resistant strains.

The downside of some vaccinations, according to experts, is that they are not ideal; that as emergency vaccines in an outbreak, when a farmer needs to vaccinate a large number of birds in a short period of time, each chicken must be vaccinated individually, preferably twice.

Another difficulty is that foreign vaccines for control measures may be made from serotypes that differ from the local field strains, which could be problematic.

However, a ministry insider said for a long time, some vaccine manufacturers have been pushing farmers to put pressure on the federal government to shift its stance from “no vaccination” to “vaccination.”

“How do you allow me to sink millions and billions into investment and then you are not allowing me to protect my investment? That is suicidal, that is very unfair.

 “Farms that have been affected by avian influenza, the government is not protecting them and they are not allowing the farmers to protect their farms by vaccination,” he said.

What you should know about bird flu

Both domestic and wild birds can contract the highly contagious viral disease known as avian influenza (AI). Though less commonly, AI viruses have also been isolated from mammalian animals, including humans.

The viruses that cause this complex disease are classified into a number of subtypes (such as H5N1, H5N3 and H5N8), and their genetic makeup is constantly changing. Although the disease is present everywhere, some places are more likely to experience specific subtypes than others.

According to the severity of the sickness in poultry, there are generally two groups into which the numerous avian influenza virus strains fall.

Highly Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) causes severe clinical signs and potentially high fatality rates; Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI) often causes few or no clinical signs.


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