The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has urged Western and Central African governments to be vigilant, and to continue their raised surveillance and prevention efforts as H5N1 avian influenza (Bird Flu) outbreaks were recently confirmed in chicken farms in Cameroon.
A major concern is that the disease may become endemic in the entire region, particularly in Nigeria where avian influenza has become so entrenched in poultry production and marketing systems that it will be difficult to eliminate, and this will affect the livelihood of farmers.
FAO has called on the governments to include common messaging to the public and data sharing between the public health and agriculture sectors as part of their prevention efforts. Bird Flu has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poultry and losses of tens of billions of dollars worldwide since the virus first spread internationally in 2013. In Cameroon alone, losses have added up to an estimated $20 million.
In response to the outbreak, the agency is working closely with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health, to offer assistance to affected countries. They are also helping with the investigation of potential Bird Flu cases in animals and humans and locating the source of infection. The agency further said that it will continue to assist governments in mobilizing funds to combat H5N1.
The recent outbreak in Cameroon has brought the number of countries that have battled bird flu in West and Central Africa to six, also including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.