Cameroon has become the latest African country to detect an outbreak of avian influenza (AI) and neighbouring countries – Nigeria, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of the Congo and Chad – fear for their poultry production.
Cameroon’s economy has lost close to $20m as a direct result of the H5N1 strain.
Nigeria is already reeling from a devastating bird flu crisis with 750 outbreaks that resulted in the deaths of 3.5m birds. Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Niger are also reported to have detected the H5N1 strain.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has warned that Cameroon fears the disease could be travelling southwards. International emergency responses have been triggered to contain the disease, with health screenings of poultry factory workers now under way in Cameroon.
“We’re looking at a quickly spreading disease that has devastating effects on livelihoods in communities,” said Abebe Haile Gabriel, FAO deputy regional representative for Africa. “H5N1 causes major losses of nutritious food and threatens farmers’ livelihoods, particularly in resource-poor environments where governments have difficulty providing financial compensation for losses,” he said, adding: “Trade restrictions often pose an additional hardship on already struggling economies.”
H5N1 is one of the most deadly strains of AI and has caused the death of tens of millions of poultry, wiping billions of dollars off businesses worldwide since the virus first spread in 2013.
The FAO is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to put in place contingency plans for the virus. Investigations into potential AI cases and the source of infection are also under way.