Lilongwe — Government through the Ministry of Health has banned the sale and consumption of bush meat in the southern region districts following an outbreak of Anthrax in the Shire River segment of Liwonde National Park.
Anthrax, which can be found in the soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world, is a serious infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis.
Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi announced of the ban during a press briefing in Lilongwe on Thursday saying the ban would only be lifted once the situation has normalized.
He said despite Anthrax being a disease that is treatable and curable in both humans and animals, it is advisable to prevent it hence the ban.
"Although it is rare, people can get sick with Anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products. We also caution people not to touch, open or eat the dead animal," he said.
He said government has put in place mechanisms that would ensure that the situation is contained.
He cited sensitization issues in the affected districts of Balaka, Machinga and Mangochi where infected animals have already been identified and formation of a national multi sectoral team on Anthrax as some of the measures put in place.
"The three districts have developed action plans including setting up of response teams. We are ensuring that medicines are available in all the hospitals in the districts," said Muluzi.
In order to contain the situation, Muluzi urged people to immediately report to the nearest government authorities such as agricultural extension officer, health surveillance assistants, police officers or any nearest extension worker when signs and symptoms are observed in animals.
Director of Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa assured that the situation is manageable hence no cause for alarm.
"What we are saying is that in specific areas of Liwonde where there is this disease, it is a restricted area in terms of human beings as well as other species of wildlife. We are part of the team that is going around sensitizing the general public on the matter," he said.
He said everything possible is being done to ensure that the disease doesn't spread to other wild animals and humans.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Director of Animal Health and Livestock Development, Dr Patrick Chikungwa said the situation requires immediate attention and better sensitization.
However, he said the situation is under control as there are necessary tools and expertise to deal with the disease.
"Whilst we are sensitizing the public to take necessary measures, it must be put to the notice that the situation will be contained soon if we follow all the necessary measures," he said.
However, Dr Chikungwa said it is really not amusing that Malawi has been hit by the disease saying almost all its neighboring countries have reported it.
The disease has been reported in Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Tanzania.
"So the disease seems to be coming with changes in climate as one of the risk factors which we are noting. What it tells us is that we need to be on the lookout for this disease but it is a situation which can be managed," he observed.
Following the observation of the disease, government conducted investigations by collecting samples for laboratory analysis which confirmed that the hippos are dying from Anthrax.
As of 5th December this year, 33 hippos had died from the disease. This is the first time that Malawi has recorded cases of Anthrax.
Domestic and wild animals such as buffaloes, hippos, antelope, cattle, sheep and goats can become infected when they breathe in bacteria from contaminated soil or ingest bacteria while drinking contaminated water.
People get infected with Anthrax when the bacteria is ingested, inhaled or through contact with animal and animal products.