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Keep out foot and mouth disease

The Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) recently alerted the nation of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in some provinces of South Africa. As a result of the outbreak, the regulatory agency stated that its officers at all ports of entry into Nigeria had been put on the alert for live cloven-hooved animals and associated raw products that may be imported from South Africa and other contiguous Southern African countries.

Dr Chigozie Nwodo, who heads the media office at NAQS said, “Foot and mouth disease is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects sheep, goat, pit, cattle and other bovids. The clinical symptoms of the disease are high fever which may last between two and six days; blisters inside the mouth which may lead to excessive secretion of stringy and foamy saliva and to drooling; and blisters on the feet which may eventually rupture and cripple the animal.”

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It is important for agencies at ports of entry in Nigeria to be put on alert, considering the fact that trading between Nigeria and South Africa has blossomed in recent years. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says “Foot and Mouth Disease may not affect humans if consumption of unpasteurised milk, dairy products or unprocessed meat from infected animals and direct contact with such animals is avoided.”

Even at that, the disease usually takes a huge economic toll on animal farming because it is highly infectious. Its impact in the United Kingdom economy in 2001 was very devastating. A report by the UK parliament said the disease, which plagued the country for seven months, led to massive losses.  An audit report said the outbreak cost the public sector over £3 billion and the private sector more than £5 billion. Since then, the UK government has taken many precautionary measures, including contingency plans to curtail its spread in case of a future outbreak.

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We, therefore, call on government to put in place a contingency plan to ensure that any outbreak here can be curtailed. From the UK experience, it is apparent that even if the disease does not directly affect the health of human beings, it could devastate herds and cause serious losses to livestock farmers.  All hands should be on deck to prevent such occurrence.

Part of the contingency plan should include necessary investment in veterinary services. In the past, veterinary doctors who engaged in the monitoring of livestock were visible. They profiled livestock in transit and their health conditions were properly documented to the point that those that showed signs of ill-health were either inoculated or quarantined.  This kind of monitoring does not seem to be done routinely in the country today. This is the time to return to that good practice. In many European countries, livestock are well labelled and their ownership can be determined and traced.  In Nigeria this used to be the case in the past.

In addition, we call on government to pay special attention to the training of veterinary doctors. In many states, there are not more than a dozen veterinary doctors to take care of cattle, sheep, goats, dogs and other domestic animals. The shortage should be urgently addressed. The health condition of domestic animals is very important to the health of human beings who consume and live with them. Veterinary doctors undergo the kind of rigorous training that medical doctors undergo, but as a result of the poor treatment meted out to them by government and the society, many of them migrate to other sectors of the economy, abandoning the care of livestock. This trend is not good for a country that is serious about the hygiene and health status of the animals consumed in the country. Government should put in place preventive measures to ensure Nigeria is not plagued by foot and mouth disease, in addition to all the other infectious diseases that we are currently contending with.

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