By Mathieu Bonkoungou
OUAGADOUGOU – Burkina Faso started to cull poultry on Thursday in the area where birds died of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu, as the disease’s spread in Africa and diagnosis delays raised concerns in the region.
The West Afri
can country confirmed on Monday that it had found the virus in poultry at a motel on the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou, making it the fifth African country to report the disease after Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Egypt.
The Burkinabe authorities’ efforts to cull the birds on Thursday quickly ran into problems as the poison added to the drinking water of the motel’s chickens and pigeons did not work first time, and a fresh batch of poison had to be found.
Finally 10 or so birds died and were put in plastic bags and livestock ministry officials in white safety suits, boots and masks moved to extend the cull within a 3 km (2-mile) radius.
But residents prevented them from entering nearby homes to cull poultry until all the motel’s stock had died, despite a pledge of 1,500 CFA francs ($2.81) compensation for each bird.
The motel owner who raised the alarm about dying birds in early March waited more than one month for the virus to be confirmed, crucial weeks in which the disease could have spread within the country and beyond its borders.
The delay in diagnosis underscores fears that Africa’s poor human and animal health services and large backyard poultry population make it an easy target for the spread of the disease, which has killed more than 100 people worldwide.
Egypt announced its third bird flu death on Thursday.
Ghana’s top veterinary officer Dr Francis Ampratwum said the lack of a reference laboratory in the region is a problem.
Preliminary tests in local laboratories may indicate the virus but must be confirmed in a reference laboratory, often in Europe, he said.
Slow detection means the movement of birds needs to be curtailed as much as possible, said Kenneth Quartey, chairman of Ghana’s National Association of Poultry Farmers.
“All of us have to take the necessary precautions to restrict the flow of fowl into various countries because of the fact we are not able to identify it rapidly,” Quartey said.
Restricting the movement of birds is made difficult by the porous nature of many African borders, he said.
“On a lot of these borders, there are relatives who live on one side or the other and fowls are considered gifts, so these sorts of things could happen,” he added.
Neighbouring Ivory Coast has banned imported poultry from affected countries but one expert calls for stricter measures.
“Preventing the movement of poultry from one region to another helps to restrict the virus. That’s one of the proposals we’ve made to the (agriculture) minister,” Dr. Daniel Ekra, a director of the state National Public Hygiene Institute, told Reuters in Abidjan.
Experts fear lack of funding and international help could stymie efforts to curtail the spread of the disease.
Burkina Faso has asked for 1.3 billion CFA franc ($2.41 million) from international donors to fund its bird flu response programme and U.N. officials say the continent needs more help.
Much of the $1.9 billion pledged at a bird flu summit in January was for Asia, U.N. bird flu coordinator David Nabarro said on Tuesday, adding that countries infected more recently, such as those in Africa, needed more funds. — Reuter