UN urges halt to crossborder chicken trade near Nigeria to stop spread

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) issued a joint statement calling on veterinary authorities in Nigeria to immediately close down poultry markets throughout Kaduna and Kano state and neighbouring regions.Countries surrounding Nigeria – Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Niger and Togo – should increase surveillance measures, the two organizations said, urging those nations to tighten border inspections and control.The two organizations will field a joint mission to Nigeria within the next two days to reinforce the FAO veterinary team already on the ground, according to the statement. The mission will assess the situation and will advise on emergency measures and needs.Meanwhile in Geneva, Dr. Michael Perdue, an epidemiologist with the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Influenza Programme, which is working closely with the FAO and OIE, confirmed that there is no evidence of the virus being transmitted from person-to-person, only from birds.Should the virus change into a form that spreads among humans, WHO has said that a global pandemic could break out, killing tens of millions of people worldwide.In humans, treatment with antiviral medicines is one way to reduce death and illness, and WHO has been building up drug stockpiles at different locations worldwide for quick distribution in case of an emergency.“We are concerned with the fact that this particular strain of H5N1 has now moved through central Asia; Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, Romania, Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, and now down into Africa,” Dr. Perdue said.A WHO team will leave this weekend for Nigeria to continue assessing the situation there, he said.Nigeria is slated to have a major polio vaccination campaign kick off this weekend. Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s coordinator on the issue, said the overlap between bird flu concerns and anti-polio activities could be fortuitous. “If there is any silver lining in what’s happened in Nigeria it’s actually that we are detecting disease, avian flu in birds, in the place where we have one of the strongest surveillance and operations infrastructures in Africa” because of polio, he said.In Africa, there are about 450 national and international staff on the ground working through the polio infrastructure alone. The Nigerian Government’s avian flu response plan “actually sits largely on the polio infrastructure,” Dr. Aylward pointed out.WHO and national experts, he said, will “prime” the polio system so that it can respond to avian flu as well, not only in Nigeria but in Niger, Benin, and Cameroon as well. read more