SEVERAL countries that have in the recent past detected the presence of bird flu have only placed restrictions on poultry
flocks after recording deaths.
It is good that Zambia has taken a positive step by banning the importation of poultry and all poultry products from countries that have been affected by the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N8) to prevent any outbreak in the country.
Among these countries are our neighbours, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. It has been reported that this month in Harare, Zimbabwe, a case of the virus was detected at one of the major poultry producers, Irvine’s Private Limited. After over 7,000 birds succumbed to the virus, the firm culled over 140,000 others to prevent it from spreading further in that country, or even beyond its borders.
Therefore, Zambia’s measure to ban imports of poultry and their products must be commended as it is aimed at preventing outbreaks of the virus in all parts of the country; huge losses of poultry as a result of the disease could negatively affect the performance of the country’s economy and perpetuate poverty among poultry farming communities, especially in rural areas.
All businesses and individuals involved in poultry trade should take Minister of Fisheries and Livestock Michael Katambo’s warning, that anyone found importing poultry and their products from the H5N8- infected countries will be prosecuted, as they will not only be acting against the law, but putting the country at risk.
The disease is said to be highly contagious, and that it attacks human beings where there is contact with an affected bird. If it has the potential to kill 90 percent to 100 percent of the total poultry population, besides other animals, too, then there is need for all stakeholders, namely the government, poultry farm owners, the corporate world, farmer organisations, non-governmental organisations concerned with agricultural activities and all citizens, to work together to ensure that the virus does not break out in the country.
Efforts by government agencies towards effecting surveillance on routes for wild migratory birds and various water bodies should be commended, as this shows that Government is committed to curb the spread of bird flu right from all the known sources of the pandemic.
With well–established large-scale poultry farms, as well as small- and medium-scale enterprises in this business around the country, it is true that Zambia is self-sufficient in poultry. People should not worry about shortfalls in terms of poultry products supply. Everyone should simply be vigilant to prevent the spread of the H5N8 virus.
As the symptoms of the disease have already been widely publicised – i.e. fever, coughing, chills and weakness – members of the public, poultry farm owners and businesses will do well to report any case of the avian influenza or any death of chickens, ducks and guinea fowls, among others, to the nearest veterinary service centre. Toll-free lines must be opened so that any suspected case is reported as quickly as possible.
Awareness-raising among members of the public and hunting communities, over the same, by government agencies and other stakeholders must continue through various media. Besides the importance of eating well-cooked meat products and refraining from selling and consuming animals found sick or dead, people should also be sensitised on the need to wash their hands properly after handling birds or other animals.
All these efforts and many others at our disposal, as productive citizens and allies in fighting any negative forces in our lives are, in the long run, directed towards attaining the much-needed socio-economic development for our country.