(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

New health risk with farmers using banned bird flu vaccine

Caged chickens for purchase in a poultry shop, Cairo, Egypt, 16 February 2007. Egypt is a major route for migratory birds and is one of the countries worst hit by the bird flu virus outside Asia.
Victoria Hazou/IRIN

Commercial poultry farmers in Nigeria are vaccinating their chickens against a deadly strain of bird flu virus despite a government ban. Experts say they are increasing the risk of further contamination.

"Vaccination that is not done properly has contributed to the spread of the infection,” said Mohammed Saidu, head of animal health at Nigeria’s World Bank-sponsored programme to combat the virus known as H5N1.

He and other bird flu experts are concerned about reports that large-scale farmers around the commercial capital, Lagos, and in the north of the country have been buying the imported vaccines through local markets that are poorly regulated and frequently sell fake or defective products.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health warn that with unregulated use of vaccines the H5N1 virus could mutate into a new more deadly strain.

Nigeria to date has officially banned the use of vaccines to tackle H5N1.Through culling, quarantine, disinfecting and surveillance of affected areas, “Nigeria has achieved good success in reducing the disease incidence,” according to FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech in a report.

More than one million birds have been destroyed across Nigeria since February 2006 when the virus was first detected in the country. However, cases of the virus have since been confirmed in 22 of Nigeria's 36 states and infections still exist in 14 of those states.

In Lagos one person died of the virus in February.

Targeted vaccination

Some countries in Asia and Africa have vaccination programmes which have been effective, FAO says, but the agency says the programmes require strict monitoring.
FAO recently urged Nigeria to vaccinate as part of its control strategy.

''Most farmers find implementing the recommended control measures tedious and expensive''

“Nigeria is encouraged to seriously consider targeted vaccination of poultry where appropriate, using quality vaccines and applying strict monitoring procedures,” FAO officials said in a statement after a mission to the country in February.

But Saidu said more research is needed. “The outcome of our studies in the country will help us make an informed decision,” he said.

The head of the poultry farmers' association in Nigeria’s northern state of Kano, Auwalu Haruna, said over 60 percent of farmers in the association have been forced out of business due to bird flu.

Haruna said farmers find implementing the recommended control measures tedious and expensive. "Most farmers lack the capacity and the will to apply them,” he said.

He and other farmers say vaccination is the best way to stop the virus. "The moment the virus enters my bird the virus stops there and the disease will be contained," he said.

Adverse effect on exports?

However, vaccination could have an adverse effect on Nigeria’s chicken exports, particularly to South Africa, said an official with the Nigerian Agriculture Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“There are countries that test our products for the virus and once you start vaccinating then traces of the virus will show up and they will stop buying,” he said.

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