- As international specialists are streaming to Nigeria to assist authorities in fighting the avian flu outbreak, unconfirmed reports indicate that the disease may have spread to five more Nigerian states. The UN today warned Nigeria's efforts to stop the spread of bird flu are insufficient.
Last week, cases of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus had been confirmed in Nigeria's northern and central states of Kaduna, Kano and Plateau. Today, health authorities confirm that suspicious cases in five other states also are being investigated.
Health Minister Eyitayo Lambo today announced that tests are being conducted on samples taken from poultry in Nasarawa and Niger states near the Nigerian capital Abuja, as well as in Katsina, Yobe and Jigawa states, close to the international border with Niger. "If confirmed, the new cases will show that the first outbreak of the H5N1 disease in Africa has now spread through most of the north of the country and entered the Niger River Basin," Minister Lambo said.
Nigerian authorities have been criticised for acting too slow on the dangerous epidemic, allowing the bird flu to spread to a rather large area. Tests were taken too late and quarantine measures have been inadequate, poultry farmers in northern Nigeria said before the weekend.
Today, also UN officials say that the measures announced by the government of Nigeria to hinder further spread of the feared disease are inadequate and "failing". Juan Lubroth of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had observed that the official poultry quarantine is not efficient as birds are still being moved around in the infected area.
Mr Lubroth further said that there were indications that the bird flu had spread to Nigeria's northern neighbour, Niger. A Nigerien government spokesman today however denied this, saying there was no proof to these speculations. Niger last week banned all poultry imports from Nigeria and has intensified its border controls.
Meanwhile, UN experts are streaming into Nigeria to assist national authorities in their response to the outbreak. A team of World Health Organisation (WHO) experts arrived Nigeria Sunday and yesterday began meeting with government officials in Abuja.
"Our team is now working with local officials and partner agencies to assess the situation and ensure that humans are not infected with the virus," WHO team leader Luis Sambo said. "Nigeria is a densely populated country with a highly mobile population. Containing the outbreak in Nigeria - and elsewhere around the world where the disease has occurred - is crucial as this will save the world community a public health nightmare," Dr Sambo added.
Other forms of support expected to be provided by WHO to the Nigerian government include technical assistance for social mobilisation, active surveillance and case detection; strengthening of laboratories to facilitate investigations and confirmation of diagnosis; supply of personal protective equipment including security gears such as masks and gloves, and supply of laboratory reagents and drugs such as Tamiflu – an antiviral drug considered a first line of defence against avian influenza.
Other aid is also streaming into Nigeria, as Western governments fear a possible pan-African bird flu outbreak that could lead to the H5N1 virus jumping to humans and starting a deadly global flu epidemic. The US government has already pledged US$ 25 million to stop bird flu from spreading to humans in Nigeria. Also the World Bank has announced a US$ 50 million investment to help Nigeria deal with the bird flu emergency.
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