Recently, the federal government, in a statement, confirmed that there is the possibility of an outbreak of anthrax in the country. This statement, it said, was based on a country risk assessment conducted by the human health sector.
Anthrax, according to experts, is a zoonotic illness, like COVID – 19. By definition, zoonotic illness is primarily found in animals but is capable of infecting humans as well. Other zoonotic illnesses are Lassa fever, monkey pox and the like.
As a newspaper, we are worried at this development especially as the country is presently contending with the outbreak of Diphtheria with 836 cases already reported and which has claimed 80 lives between May and June 2023.
A statement signed by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) confirmed one case of Anthrax disease in a mixed livestock farm in Niger State.
This is the first animal case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the West Africa outbreak in Ghana in June 2023.
The statement, released on July 13, 2023, claimed that the sudden death of livestock in this farm with eight mortality was reported and the animals were observed to have been bleeding from external orifices without blood clotting. Health authorities say that the potential impact of the disease on humans is high.
Without treatment, the risk of death from skin anthrax is 23.7 per cent. For intestinal infection the risk of death is 25 to 75 per cent, while respiratory anthrax has a mortality of 50 to 80 per cent, even with treatment.
Further analysis of the disease indicate that the bacteria that causes anthrax can infect both animals and humans. Though it is primarily an animal disease but humans who are exposed to sick animals are also at risk of contacting the deadly ailment.
Reacting to this obvious health threat, the Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control ( NCDC), Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, disclosed that the centre has activated the incident management system at level two with an incident manager appointed for effective coordination of the response.
“The abattoirs and meat sector are under the regulation of state ministries of agriculture and rural development or livestock. They have full access to abattoirs as they are meant to regulate abattoirs within states.”
Though laudable, we urge for more proactive action that will halt the disease in its track. In our opinion, Nigerian health authorities ought to have taken steps to prevent the disease getting into the country at all when Ghana recorded a case in June this year.
The concern, as we perceive it, is the tendency on the part of health authorities to allow situations like this to reach a crisis dimension before embarking on measures that are often belated. Were it not for sheer providence, fatalities from the COVID-19 outbreak would have been higher given the last minute response to the outbreak in the country.
The mandate of the Federal Ministry of Health is to develop and implement policies that strengthen the national health system for effective, efficient, accessible and affordable delivery of health services in partnership with other stakeholders.
On this Anthrax outbreak, the government has cautioned against eating sick animals and bush meat, saying that they may contain anthrax and animals that have died from anthrax also contain anthrax.
The NCDC also warned that livestock be properly inspected and people who own animals should not take sick animals for slaughter.
We urge the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) involved in the response team, including the veterinary health officers and veterinary service Centres in respective states to be on alert, and go on to sensitise the public and meat workers about the likelihood of anthrax.
This is not the time to work in isolation or to claim supremacy over one another. There’s need for collaborative effort to ensure that the disease is contained and curbed so that it does not spread.
We have it on good authority that there are vaccines to protect animals from the disease which was produced by the National Veterinary Research Institute. The strategy, therefore, should be to conduct ring vaccination around suspected or confirmed cases.
Vaccines are always available and people who have animal farms and look after animals should be made to liaise with their local public health veterinary offices to arrange for vaccination.
We are hopeful that with collaborative effort and open communication line, Nigeria will be able to win this war against anthrax outbreak.