‘SITUATION UNDER CONTROL’ – Ministry of Agriculture Says Nothing to Fear Amid Report of Mass Death of Chickens, Ducks in Nimba County

MONROVIA – Following report of an unprecedented mass death of chickens and ducks in Bahn City, Nimba County, the Ministry of Agriculture says the situation is under control and there is nothing to fear.

FrontPage Africa reported recently that the mysterious death of the animals has left residents living in fear as they sought answers from health authorities in Monrovia.

However, in a statement issued by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) through the Veterinary Service, it said samples of the dead animals were collected and transported to the Central Laboratory to be tested for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and Newcastle Disease (NCD). The Ministry said the results were negative for HPAI but presumptive for NCD.

According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the HPAI virus occurs in birds and human. And while it is highly contagious among birds, it can be severe in humans as well; infecting the respiratory tract and causing severe illness such as pneumonia and respiratory failure and death in some people.

On the other hand, NCD only affects birds, particularly poultry, such as chickens. It causes illness and death in large numbers of birds quickly. Infected birds may show signs of loss of appetite, coughing, gasping, nasal discharge, watery eyes, bright green diarrhea and nervous signs such as paralysis and convulsions.

‘Up to the Task’

The MOA, in the statement said a team of experts was sent to the affected community, collected samples and submitted to the laboratory and awaiting result of further test. In the main time, movement control measure has been put in place and active case search is ongoing.

It said, with the situation having potential human implications, the Ministry of Health at the County level has enhanced surveillance; adding that any change in human health status will be detected.

It added another team from the MOA in collaboration with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been dispatched to the affected areas for further investigations and robust sampling to ascertain the presence of the disease, adding that subsequently, new information will be provided to the public when necessary. It warned citizens not to consume the dead animals.

Meanwhile, the Director of Epidemiologist at the Central Veterinary Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Eddie Miaway Farngalo has assured the public of the ministry’s commitment to ensuring the right decisions and mechanisms are put in place to protect the population.

The Veterinary Service is a division within the Department of Technical Services at the Ministry of Agriculture. This division has four main responsibilities – treatment of diseased/sick animals, preventing disease outbreaks, provision of drugs and vaccines as well as human health protection.

According to Mr. Farngalo, in 2019, the division developed and validated the Animal Disease Surveillance and Response (ADSR) system. The Veterinary Services as competent authority for animal health in Liberia prioritized 12 diseases which are further placed into two categories: eight zoonotic (diseases that are spread from animal to human) and four non-zoonotic (diseases of economic importance that are immediately reportable).

In order to gather relevant data and process information about the priority diseases, he noted that the system carries out both active and passive surveillance across the country.

“There are frontline animal health officers assigned at both community and county levels for surveillance,” he said.

 At the community level, there are Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) that respond to immediate animal health events including notifications. The CAHWs collect and send data to the County Animal Health Surveillance Officers (CAHSOs) at the county level.

While at the county level, he noted that the CAHSOs work in close collaboration with the Human Health Surveillance Officers for response to zoonotic diseases. The CAHSOs transmit both data and samples as well as immediate notifications to the Central Veterinary Epidemiology Unit for processing of the data into information and the Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (CVDL) confirmation respectively for sharing with stakeholders of the system.

Mr. Farngalo, who also serves as the Focal Point of the World Bank’s Regional Disease Surveillance Systems and Enhancement (REDISSE) program, in the statement said, to further strengthen the Ministry of Agriculture, its Veterinary Service has a Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (CVDL) that was been renovated and equipped with support from the FAO funded by USAID under the Global Health Security Agenda and the REDISSE Project funded by the World Bank to carry active surveillance activities.  

Through this support, he said that the CVDL has the capacity to test for several country priority diseases of animal and public health concerns.

He said: “The exceptional execution of these functions over the years by the CVDL led to the confirmation of dog rabies for the first time ever in Liberia. In addition to the lab is capable of detecting other diseases including HPAI, Bovine Tuberculosis, Brucellosis, Anthrax, Newcastle Disease, Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) among others.”

Since its operationalization, the Division of Veterinary Services through the Ministry of Agriculture has responded to several outbreaks involving animals including sheep, goats, dogs, Chickens and Monkeys; while conducting series of animals’ vaccinations for the purpose of preventing diseases like – Dog mediated rabies and the PPR.

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through the Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with FrontPage Africa.

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