Kenyan authorities on Wednesday warned that the country’s poultry industry faced a high risk of devastation in the wake of a recent outbreak of the contagious avian flu in neighbouring Uganda.
Agriculture secretary Willy Bett said Kenya had raised its protection to the highest level since an outbreak of bird flu was reported in Uganda on Monday.
Mr Bett sent a spine-chilling warning to the millions of poultry farmers that the country may have to kill all the 32 million chicken in its farms should the disease cross the border and start spreading in Kenya.
“We remain at high risk and in most cases the proper response is to kill all birds, which means the disease can destroy a whole poultry industry,” the minister said even as he maintained that Kenya remained free of the contagious flu.
Mr Bett urged the Kenyan public to report any cases of unusual poultry and wild bird deaths in their locality to the nearest veterinary and or public health authorities to help arrest the situation that now threatens to devastate the multi-billion shilling industry.
The minister urged the public to ensure that all poultry and animals slaughtered for consumption are inspected by qualified public health officials, avoid contact between wild and domestic birds and provide separate housing for domestic birds.
Kenya on Monday reacted to news of an outbreak of Avian Flu in Uganda with a ban on importation of poultry and poultry products from its Western neighbour and asked Ugandan veterinary authorities not to issue any export permits for poultry and poultry products destined for Kenya.
All export permits issued earlier for similar products have been cancelled.
Kenya is a major importer of poultry products from Uganda, which took in at least 33,700 kilogrammes of poultry meat worth Sh7 million imported from Uganda last year.
East Africa’s largest economy also took in 120,000 kilogrammes of eggs worth Sh12 million from its neighbour, according to data from the Agriculture ministry.
The quantities could be higher considering the large amount of informal trade that takes place between the two countries.
Smuggling of poultry products and the migratory nature of the birds are thought to be the weakest points on the wall that Kenya is trying to build along its Western border in response to the disease outbreak.
Avian Flu is a highly infectious disease that affects many animals, including humans, rats and mice, weasels and ferrets, pigs, cats, tigers and dogs.
The outbreak was first detected in wild ducks on the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria at Lutembe beach near Entebbe in Masaka and Wakiso districts – forcing Kenya to take drastic measures to protect itself. Kenyan authorities, however, said the country was already on high alert since the 2005 reports of outbreaks in Asia, parts of Europe and Africa.
Mr Bett said the country had developed solid response plans, including immediate blockage of poultry and poultry products from affected countries and enhanced surveillance for the disease.
“Further, a Multi-disciplinary National Task Force was formed to guide the development of a National Action Plan, Contingency Plan, Rapid Response Protocol and Communication Strategy for Avian Influenza/Bird Flu,” the minister said, adding that rapid response teams had been formed and trained to enhance their capacities for response to an outbreak response.
He said Kenya and Uganda had in 2009 carried out a cross-border field simulation exercise in Busia town and its environs that was facilitated by the Kenyan government, Food and Agriculture Organisation and the East African Community.
He said a rapid response team had been dispatched to the border counties to help in surveillance and public education.
The list of counties on high alert includes Busia, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Turkana, West Pokot, Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori.
The multi-agency team involving the police, Kenya Revenue Authority, the National Disaster Operation Centre, Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the Kenya Bureau of Standards has been tasked to save the country’s poultry industry from the risk of attack.
Should Kenya confirm the outbreak, hotels and food chains will be hardest hit as their income from poultry products will be wiped out.
Last month, South Korea mobilized its armed forces to take part in a poultry culling exercise involving 1.6 million in 24 hours to stem the spread of a highly contagious strain of bird flu.
Up to 26 million birds were killed in the affected areas. Japan equally killed 90,000 chicken in 24 hours.