The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) has asked the public to remain calm in the wake of the detection of the H5N1 Avian influenza (bird flu) virus on a farm near Tema.
The sector Minister, Mr Ernest Debrah, told journalists in Accra yesterday that preliminary investigations conducted by the Avian Influenza Task Force indicated that no human being had been affected by the virus.
“The situation is being technically and expertly handled by the task force and it is under control. There is no need to panic or fear poultry,” he assured the nation.
“At this stage, we can assure the public that it is still quite safe to eat chicken,” the minister added.
The Accra Veterinary Laboratory diagnosed the bird flu on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 on a small-scale poultry farm in the Tema municipality.
Further tests conducted at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) of the University of Ghana confirmed the H5N1 virus, samples of which the Ghanaian authorities have decided to send to the World Organisation for Animal Health Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory in Italy for further confirmation and to determine the source of the virus.
According to Mr Debrah, as soon as the detection was made, the Veterinary Services Emergency Preparedness Team moved to the farm and took measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
The measures included the destruction of all birds on the farm, numbering 1,678, as well as those in adjoining houses. Furthermore, all carcasses were incinerated and the remains buried.
In the meantime, the minister announced that the Tema Municipal assembly (TMA) had been declared an Avian influenza infected area, adding that there shall be no movement of live birds within and out of the municipality until further notice.
He also indicated that all live bird markets were immediately closed, while investigations continued for the detection of any further virus in other areas.
“All poultry farmers should increase their levels of bio-security and ensure that people do not unnecessarily enter their farms,” he advised.
In spite of the assurance given by Mr Debrah that there was no cause for alarm, he cautioned the public not to touch or handle any sick or dead birds with their bare hands, they should report the death of any bird to the nearest agricultural office, wash their hands immediately and thoroughly with soap and water in case they touch any infected birds, desist from dressing or eating any sick or dead birds and thoroughly cook poultry products before eating.
On compensation for farmers whose birds were destroyed, he said the affected farmers would be paid a rate between 50 and 90 per cent of the market value of the destroyed birds before the outbreak.
One issue which came up during question time was how the nation could deal with wild or migrating birds which are likely to spread the virus, against the backdrop that Ghana has only one wildlife veterinary doctor.
The Director of the Veterinary Services Division, Dr Mensah Agyen-Frempong, said although that was a challenge, it was not a major problem because measures had been put in place to keep track of the movement of wild birds.
In the past five years, 172 people are reported to have died globally from bird flu, with West Africa recording only one death in Nigeria.
Following the outbreak of the disease, the government, about three years ago, put in place measures to deal with the situation and, according to the Agriculture Minister, “we are fully prepared for it”.
The public has been asked to report any sign of the disease to the Veterinary Services Division on telephone numbers 021-776021/ 775777 or to the National Disaster Management Organisation on telephone number 021-772926.
Story by Kofi Yeboah