The outbreak of charcoal anthrax in Niger Republic is sad news and a setback to the livestock sector in the West African sub-region. An initial report from the Nigerien Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to the World Health Organisation for Animal Health indicated that, as at September 23, more than 20 cows had been killed by the bacteria, while as many as 100 more had been infected. In view of ECOWAS free movement, which has also facilitated the cattle grazing and trading in the sub-region, the charcoal anthrax outbreak is of a great concern to Nigeria as Niger Republic is one of its immediate neighbors.
It is well-known that anthrax is a bacterial infection which even humans are exposed to. The variant that infects livestock, charcoal anthrax, do infect those who consume animals infected with this anthrax. The World Health Organisation, on its website, says, "Gastrointestinal anthrax is caught from eating meat from an infected animal. It causes initial symptoms similar to food poisoning but these can worsen to produce severe abdominal pain, vomiting of blood and severe diarrhoea. Appropriate medical evaluation and treatment are essential."
It is reassuring that the Nigerian Customs Service has said it has taken proactive measures against the importation of this disease into Nigeria. Last week, the agency said, "Given the supply of cattle and sheep from Niger to Nigeria, the CGC has directed on the urgent need to place additional precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease into Nigeria through our land borders." At the moment, Nigeria's land borders with neighbouring countries have been closed, hence animals are not expected to be imported from any of the West African countries into Nigeria. However, we encourage Customs operatives the demonstrate patriotism by abiding by the directive of the Comptroller General of the Service.
Also, a statement by the Director of Veterinary and Pest Control Services of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Olaniran Alabi, that the department had strengthened surveillance in all the frontline states where cattle markets and cross borer activities exist with Niger Republic, is a positive step. We would advice the agency that, in addition to Nigeria's borders with Niger, its operatives should be vigilant at Nigeria's borders with other countries that share borders with Niger Republic, like Chad and Cameroon. Unscrupulous merchants could take a decoy through other countries borders in a desperate attempt to penetrate into Nigeria's market. It is well-known that Nigeria has the largest market for livestock in the subregion and, therefore, the target of cattle merchants.
We call on relevant government departments, especially research outfits, to ensure that the country is adequately prepared for an epidemic of this nature which could affect livestock. If Niger Republic livestock could be affected, it follows that cow, sheep, goats and similar animals in Nigeria could also be victims of charcoal anthrax. We, therefore, encourage agricultural research organisations to come up with preventive vaccines. Such vaccines could be used if a trace of such disease is found in any animal. Also, veterinary outfits should stock treatment drugs for both animals and human beings who may be infected with the bacteria.
In addition to preventive and remedial measures, it is important for government agencies to embark on public enlightenment on the causes, manifestations, and prevention of charcoal anthrax. Such publicity should be done in animal rearing communities. If those in the livestock sector are unaware of the features of the bacteria, they would not notice it if their animals are infected. Some, out of anxiety and ignorance, could engage in self-medication if their livestock begin to manifest evidence of unfamiliar ailments. This, too, could be disastrous as a wrong medication could trigger off unexpected health challenges among animals.
Now that Niger Republic has alerted the world about charcoal anthrax, Nigeria should be at alert to ensure the disease does not penetrated into the country's livestock sector.