Nigeria Facing Threat of Bird Flu Pandemic

By Gilbert Da Costa
01 March 2006
The World Bank says Nigeria is still struggling with an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu since the first confirmed case was reported weeks ago. The inability of the authorities to quickly stem the outbreak has raised renewed fears of a pandemic.


A senior World Bank official, Simeon Ehui, says Nigeria has failed to contain the spread of the deadly bird flu virus and now faces the prospect of an epidemic with grave consequences.

"The worst is not over. To the contrary, if it is unchecked the worst is yet to come because currently we're dealing with birds, chickens, and so on and the biggest problem now is the economic impact on the people who own chickens, but imagine if the virus spreads to human beings and then it becomes a pandemic and that's the worst and that's what we want to avoid," he said. "In Asia, already some 90 people have died. But many years ago it [flu] had killed millions of people and we do not want that to happen because the health infrastructure in Africa in general is weak, so if we do not pay attention and if we don't contain the current outbreak, the problem for human being can be bad."

Nigeria confirmed the outbreak of the bird flu on February 8. The virus is believed to have spread widely before it was detected. The virus has since been found in neighboring Niger.

Tests carried out on 55 people with acute respiratory diseases in Nigeria turned out negative for the H5N1 subtype of influenza. But health experts say they are worried about the situation in Nigeria, where several people, especially farm workers, have been exposed to the virus.

Ehui says the World Bank has offered to fund a vaccination program in Nigeria. "Doing vaccination can be good or bad. It is good if it can cover everybody, all the animals. But if does not cover everybody, it cannot be cost-effective," he noted. "So the government has to look at that, with the partners ... FAO and so on, and make a decision on that. We, have made provision in our budget to fund vaccination if the government wants to go along that route."

International experts have warned that it could take as long as three years, to tackle the outbreak in Africa. But they point out the lengthy process may increase the risk of the virus transforming into a more deadly form.