AMR: A disturbing public health concern

It was disturbing to read a recent report on how indiscriminate use of antibiotic in livestock farming places all of us at risk. The publication which featured on page 22 of the Daily Trust edition of Thursday December 27 2018 focused on how antibiotic resistance spread from livestock to humans.

Traditionally, antibiotics are used for three main reasons: ( 1) To boost the growth of animals and birds; (2) to treat flu-like infections; and (3) to prevent any eventual disease attack. Antibiotics are strong medicines that fight bacterial infections. When bacterial develops resistance to antibiotics, it is termed antibiotic resistance (ABR). However, it is called antimicrobial resistance (AMR) when disease-causing organism (bacteria, viruses, parasites) can no longer be killed by antimicrobial agent.

In the report, President of the Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), Professor Bello Agaie, explained how humans become victims of antibiotics used in livestock. He stated that when antibiotics are used in food animals, there is a period called “withdrawal” within which the animal in which antibiotic has been used should not be slaughtered; or else the residue will spread to humans when the meat, egg or milk of the affected animal is consumed during the withdrawal period.

President of the NVMA lamented that the practice is worse among poultry farmers. He observed that people keep putting a cocktail of antibiotics into water whether the birds are sick or not; purposely to enhance their growth. While this is happening, the birds are laying eggs and maturing as broilers. We eat them and get exposed to very low concentration of antibiotics. When people fall sick and are placed on these drugs, they fail to have any positive effect because they have already been exposed to some sub-lethal concentration of the drugs. The organisms would have developed resistance to the drug. In fact, there are insinuations that some livestock farmers use polio vaccine to fatten animals.

More frightening is the assertion that keeping away from consuming meat, egg or milk provides no safety from AMR. According to the veterinary professor, going on green is no less harmful to health. He clarified that consuming crops produced with animal waste including cow dung and chicken faeces which have residue from antibiotics equally exposes the individual to low concentration of drugs.

From the fore-going we all seem to be in for a looming catastrophe; placing the larger population of humans at a very high risk of AMR and its fatal consequences. If some of us can avoid taking meat, egg or milk for health or other reasons, they cannot afford to completely shun food from crops and fruits. However, it is the opinion of this writer that government is substantially responsible for this perilous situation.

The collapse of veterinary inspection services at various abattoirs across the country is a strong factor for meats that have antibiotics residues to be passed on to unsuspecting consumers. In the good old days when veterinary officers in collaboration with public health officers were supported by local government administrations to carry out their professional duties in their communities, no authorization was granted for any animal placed on antibiotic therapy to be slaughtered until the withdrawal period had expired. In those days when public health and human life meant so much to local government authorities, animal meant for slaughter were, as a matter of policy, taken to abattoir at least 24 hours before slaughter time. This was to allow for all necessary inspections (ante-mortem and post-mortem) to be carried out on animals before they are slaughtered for public consumption. In the past, only a veterinary officer had the authority to certify an animal as fit for slaughter and consumption. The animal must be disease-free with no signs of advanced pregnancy.

Today, the practice of ante-mortem inspection is out of question at abattoirs in most of the 774 LGA in the country. The emphasis has since shifted from public health to revenue sourcing. The payment of the fee charged by LGA revenue is now the only authorization required by a butcher or owner of the cow to go ahead with the slaughtering and sale of the meat for public consumption. Ante-mortem inspection is a foregone routine. Indeed, total or partial condemnation of diseased animals is also a thing of the ancient past. When government machinery at the local level was still efficient, owners of diseased animals were compensated at any time such animals were condemned, totally or partially. This is not enforceable now because government no longer provides funds for such cases. Of course corruption killed such useful budgetary provisions.

Monitoring and inspection services are essential aspects of poultry farming in developed countries. In the developed world, poultry companies are required by law to register their poultry farms and obtain a license before establishing any poultry outfit. In our case in Nigeria, poultry farming is as un-regulated as any petty trade in the country

According to 2011 figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, there are over 300 million food animals in the country including over 19 million cattle, 42 million sheep, 74 million goats, and about 200 million poultry birds. Based on the statistics of registered veterinary doctors in Nigeria, we currently have less than ten thousand veterinary doctors in the country to cater for this huge number of animals. This statistics of veterinary doctors includes the dead, the retired (from active service), the non-practicing such as those working in banks and oil companies, and those in diaspora. Kogi and Rivers state each has three veterinary doctors in their services. One of the 36 governors was reported to have said that he cannot employ the number of veterinary doctors required in his state because “they collect too much money”. Unfortunately, governors do not remember this when they want to employ thousands of political aides.

To safeguard the health of the generality of Nigerians who are consumers of meat, egg or animal milk on a daily basis, there is need for government especially at the local government level to invigorate and strengthen monetary and surveillance services of veterinary officers especially at abattoirs and poultry farms. Farmers must be educated through agricultural extension services at the state and local government level on the need to place premium on human health over wealth creation or acquisition through livestock farming .May Allah (SWT) protect us all against modern livestock threats to human survival, amin.

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