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Homeland Security

GHANA: Poultry culled after first bird flu infection reported

TEMA, 4 May 2007 (IRIN) - Ghana has begun a mass culling of poultry after the country’s National Veterinary Laboratory said it had detected the nation’s first infection with the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

At least 1,678 chickens were destroyed after a reportedly infected chicken was discovered on a small poultry farm in the port city of Tema, 20km east of the capital, Accra, officials said on Thursday.

Samples taken from the bird are being tested at the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Reference Laboratory in Padua, Italy, FAO spokesman Erwin Northoff told IRIN on Friday.

The FAO commended the Ghanaian government for acting quickly in notifying the Ghanaian population about the reported infection, as well as the international community.

“They are transparent about it, which is good,” Northoff said.

International health officials fear avian influenza could mutate into a strain that is transmissible between humans, causing a worldwide pandemic that could claim millions of lives. The illness has so far killed 172 people.

To stem the possible spread of avian flu among its poultry, Ghana has banned the export of its birds pending further investigation. Other West African countries that have been infected are neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, as well as Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger.

In January Nigeria reported its first human death from avian flu. It is the only human death known to have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa thus far.

Ghanaian officials have temporarily closed all live bird markets in and around Tema. “We have quarantined the entire affected area to ensure that the virus does not spread,” Agriculture Minister Earnest Debrah told reporters on Wednesday.

At the same time he sought to quell people’s fears. “There is no need to panic or fear poultry,” he said.

Local poultry farmers are concerned their livelihoods will be destroyed. Erick Neequaye said officials culled 700 birds valued at about US$1,200 at his small farm.

“I was confused,” he said after learning that his birds were to be culled. “I did not believe it when they said I will have to abandon my farm and that they were going to destroy all my birds. First I resisted but then I realised they were serious. Then I felt like dying.”

Neequaye makes the equivalent of about $25 per day. He said he is waiting for Ghanaian officials to pay him compensation for his culled poultry. The Agriculture Ministry said farmers would be paid 50-90 percent of the market value for their destroyed birds.

Officials also said they were sending a task force around the country to test poultry for possible avian flu infection.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
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