United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO has appealed for $20 million to stem further spread of highly virulent avian influenza virus H5N1 across West Africa.
The organisation said in a statement yesterday that the amount is for the prevention and response to bolster weak veterinary systems, improving the capabilities of local laboratories and putting FAO specialists on the ground in affected and at-risk countries.
It warned that without timely intervention to stem outbreaks of the virus in poultry farms, markets and family holdings in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, it could spread to other parts of the region, and even beyond.
“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”, it quoted Chief of FAO’s Animal Health Service Division, Juan Lubroth.
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”.
FAO stated that avian flu could trigger a mass die-off of chicken, a nutritious and inexpensive source of food for many people with detrimental impacts on diets and on the economy of the region, exacerbating an already difficult situation.
It informed that previous strains of the virus known to be highly virulent to poultry and capable of causing illness and fatalities in human, has caused the death of tens of millions of poultry and losses of tens of billions of dollars.
According to the statement, H5N1 has been circulating in Asia since the early 2000s and in Egypt for almost 10 years, while it was first discovered in West Africa in 2006 but was eliminated in 2008.
“In late 2014, however, the virus was re-introduced in Nigeria, where it spread rapidly in the following three months – to date more than 1.6 million birds have been culled or have died from the virus.
“Because the disease can be transmitted to humans and is considered highly lethal, FAO is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) on country assessments, contingency plans, offering technical assistance and investigating potential flu cases and the source of infection”, it stated.
In the countries that have experienced outbreaks, FAO said response interventions needed include destruction of infected and exposed poultry, disinfection of premises and markets and the safe disposal of dead birds.
In addition to working with national veterinary offices, it recommended that good preparedness plans include close coordination with security forces as well as with government officials, WHO and regional bodies like the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS to better control outbreaks and prevent spreading across the region of 330 million people.

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