- Although only two outbreaks of avian influenza among poultry have been reported in Côte d'Ivoire, and no human deaths, the illness has taken a significant financial and humanitarian toll. The country's many poultry producers are losing their domestic and foreign markets, while speculations over a sudden "mysterious" death wave are hindering investments.
The H5N1 virus has resulted in a loss of more US$ 20 million to traditional and industrial poultry producers as demand has dropped, according to a recent study on the impact of avian influenza on the country's economy.
Poultry processing plants have suffered the biggest losses, said the study requested by the government's Commission for the Fight Against Avian Influenza. A two-day workshop in Abidjan last week examined the impact of avian flu and discussed ways to offset losses, including compensation, to the country's poultry industry.
"Each hatchery has lost on average nearly US$ 7 million each month since the discovery of the two cases of the H5N1 virus in 2006 in the country," the study said. The first case of avian flu was reported last April in Côte d'Ivoire and a mass culling of poultry followed.
Isac Kouamé Adi, director general of Coco Service, which specialises in the production of fresh eggs, said his company has suffered the consequences of avian flu.
"We have seen a drop in consumption," he said. "But I think that consumers should not worry. We have taken all sanitary precautions to assure safe consumption."
The government report said poultry importers had lost some US$ 4.5 million while the producers of poultry products were down about $ 4.2 million dollars. Egg wholesalers individually lost on average US$ 156,000.
The consumption of poultry and poultry products has dropped by about 51 percent, according to the report.
"Today it is risky to eat chicken," said student Olivier Kacou. "Personally, I decided with some friends to no longer eat poultry since the appearance of the H5N1 virus. I think that other hygiene measures should be taken to truly offer reassurance."
Because of the drop in demand for poultry and poultry products, 450 farm labourers have lost their jobs and another 15,000 risk being out of work. "Today, 53 percent of the poultry retailers and 71 percent of the wholesalers have partially abandoned their activities," the study said.
"The situation is worrying," said Alphonse Douaty, Minister of Animal Production and Marine Resources. "But it is necessary to think about preserving what is there and to try to inspire consumer confidence."
Côte d'Ivoire stepped up its surveillance of avian flu after the death of a woman in Nigeria from the virus in February. That was the first human death of H5N1 in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Ivorian government formed its central avian flu committee last April. Another outbreak at a poultry farm outside of Abidjan occurred in November.
While there has been no human death officially contributed to avian flue in the country yet, an outbreak of a "mysterious" acute illness in a northern village that has killed 31 people and affected at least 73 others has given Côte d'Ivoire further negative publicity. People began to fall ill in the village of Diobala in the third week of December with symptoms including headache, high fever, neck and chest pain, and respiratory problems, according to a report by the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene.
The report said 90 percent of the village’s poultry, as well as about 500 goats and sheep, had died. Villagers consumed sick animals, but it was not immediately clear if this was how humans contracted the illness. Health authorities said patients treated with antibiotics responded well.
The reports from northern Côte d'Ivoire have fuelled speculations the avian flu may have been transmitted to humans, causing an epidemic. This is however rejected by Ivorian authorities and health experts, claiming that a dangerous epidemic would have spread more rapidly. "There have been no reports of illness in neighbouring villages," local health authorities maintain.
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