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Put measures in place against Avian flu

Jul 24, 2015, 9:39 AM

It is shocking reading the announcement of the impending spread of Avian flu across West Africa by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The FAO says fears are growing that without timely intervention to stem outbreaks of the highly virulent Avian flu virus H5N1 across West Africa, further spread across the region and beyond is inevitable.

It is, therefore, calling for US$20 million for prevention and response activities, following “outbreaks of the virus in poultry farms, markets and family holdings in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.”

Considering this negative development, it is prudent that The Gambia as a member state of the West African region puts necessary measures in place to prevent the spill over of such flu into our country.

“Based on what we do know, there is a real risk of further virus spread. Urgent action is needed to strengthen veterinary investigation and reporting systems in the region and tackle the disease at the root, before there is a spillover to humans,” said Juan Lubroth, chief of FAO’s Animal Health Service Division.

He added: “We’re looking at a disease - H5N1 - that has already spread to five countries in six months. We have to make a concerted effort to stop it in its tracks, and we have to do it now.”

Avian flu is a very dangerous disease. It does not only attack and destroy animals like birds and poultry livestock, it also spills over to humans taking lives at random and causing mayhem to society and national economies.

Therefore, necessary measures must be put in place to protect our country from this danger.

It has been said that previous strains of the virus are known to be highly virulent to poultry, and capable of causing illness and fatalities in humans, citing its circulation in Asia in the early 2000s and in Egypt for almost 10 years ago, as cases in point.

“The H5N1 strain has caused the death of tens of millions of poultry and losses of tens of billions of dollars,” the FAO report said.

The FAO report further stated that while the first incursion of the H5N1 in West Africa occurred in 2006, it was eliminated by 2008. In late 2014, however, “the virus was re-introduced in Nigeria, where it spread rapidly in the following three months” and to date more than 1.6 million birds have been culled or have died from the virus.

As a nation, The Gambia should read the writing on the wall, and let our health institutions be on their toes to put the necessary measures or contingency plans in place to prevent the disease from our territory.

Our medical personnel and institutions should continue to team up with the FAO, which is working closely with the World Health Organization on country assessments, contingency plans, offering technical assistance and investigating potential flu cases and the source of infection.

We, therefore, cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”