Zambia on high bird flu alert

Ministry of Health spokesperson Victor Mukonka said recently that various safeguard measures had been put in place to ensure the avian influenza was prevented from spreading to Zambia. This comes in the wake of Zimbabwe confirming that Bird Flu was in the country. Zimbabawe’s head of veterinary, director Stuart Hargreaves, said tests at two farms in the southern Matabeleland province had confirmed the existence of the H5N2 variant of avian flu in ostriches. All ostrich farms in the country had since been placed under quarantine, and exports of all poultry products suspended. Mukonka said personnel at border entry points, particularly those shared by Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo, had been instructed not to allow any poultry products out and into Zambia. He warned that Zambia was at great risk of encountering bird flu because migratory birds, which are agents of the flu, were expected to fly southwards into Zambia. Zambia’s health minister, Sylvia Masebo announced recently that a National Plan on avian influenza has been formed. Meanwhile, the Poultry Association of Zambia (PAZ) has complained that the presence of the deadly Bird flu virus in the region had dealt a severe blow to the country’s poultry industry, dropping sales levels to below 30 per cent in recent months. Media reports, quoting the Poultry Association of Zambia (PAZ) state that there was low demand for chickens and eggs following reports that the avian influenza had broken out in neighbouring Zimbabawe. PAZ chairperson, John Sangwa complained at the lack of adequate information being passed onto the communities on the bird flu situation in Zambia and neighbouring countries. “People are just not eating the chickens and eggs now, all this is because of bird flu,” said Sangwa during the Annual General Meeting for members held in Lusaka last week. According to Sangwa, threats of bird flu have outweighed the gains made by the industry. He called for strict bio-security observance and correct measures and management practices on all poultry concerns and those allied to it. PAZ executive manager, Mathews Ngosa, conceded there was scanty information about the measures needed to counter the bird flu threats. He said PAZ needed US$33,000 (ZMK100 million) for sensitization campaigns on avian influenza this year. The PAZ had a new lease of life after the Zambian government recently reversed its tax measures on agricultural products in the 2006 budget, but the lack of information has remained a major threat on the growth of the industry. A random survey revealed that most households have reduced consumption on chicken and egg related foods for fear of contracting bird flu. “We rarely buy chickens and eggs because Avian influenza is in Zambia but we are not being told the truth by the government,” says Agnes Musonda, a Lusaka housewife. George Musonko, a chicken trader at City Market in Lusaka, complained at the low business experienced since the bird flu threats were announced in Zambia. He blamed the government for lack of information on the disease arguing that most consumers were convinced the disease had broken out in Zambia. “We have lost business by more than 60 per cent because most people are convinced that our chickens and eggs were infected with bird flu and now they are not buying as much as it used to be previously,” he said. “Our profits have dropped to an average ZMK300, 000 (US$100 per month) compared to ZMK1.5 million (US$500 realised per month from sales previously.”

May 2006
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