Friday, February 17, 2006
Nigeria fights bird flu with blunt knives, bare hands
Bird Flu has hit Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and the continent's biggest poultry producer, with a vengeance. In one part of the country alone, more than 140,000 chickens have been culled, and that's just the beginning.

In farm after farm we visited for tonight's show, we witnessed disturbing scenes of chickens being slaughtered without proper supervision or equipment, with health officials using blunt knives, without gloves or protective suits, the animals' blood spraying the officials' clothes and bodies.

In some cases, the birds were dumped into pits and set alight. But in others, they were simply tossed into shallow pits and left there to rot in the hot African sun. This, scientists say, poses a problem. Uninformed locals, many of them poor, illiterate and living in remote areas, have been dipping into the pits and coming up with armloads of dead and possibly contaminated chickens. They told us they felt the whole culling exercise was a waste of what they called good meat and that they would take the birds home and cook them for their hungry families.

Health officials fear this could be the beginning of a potential pandemic, as this is one way the bird flu virus can mutate from animals to humans. And in open-air meat markets like one we visited in downtown Kano, chickens continue to be a big seller, with locals telling us they believe bird flu is a myth and that until they see evidence of humans being infected, they won't stop buying and eating chickens.

That may be too late. Although no one in Nigeria has died of bird flu, the virus has already killed more than 90 people around the world. Unfortunately, Nigeria seems to be providing the perfect uncontrolled environment for the H5N1 virus to thrive.
Posted By Jeff Koinange, CNN Africa Correspondent: 3:03 PM ET
  33 Comments
Situations such as this forces us to examine the pervasive problem of animal rights. The chickens are being cruelly slaughtered with blunt instruments in a very inhumane manner. This is appalling. For a virus that has killed a little more than 90 people in the world, we are mutilating 100s of thousand of chickens.
Posted By Anonymous Sally Pang, Austin, TX : 3:21 PM ET
Jeff, I'm always fascinating by your reports from Africa. It seems the whole continent is vastly under reported in the U.S.

I think I saw in one of your pieces, how bird flu could potentially be even more dangerous in Africa than other places because the people there are more worried about things like famine and AIDS, which are already huge problems, so they aren't really paying attention to bird flu, which hasn't killed anyone yet.

Is it feasible to put in place some sort of education program, like people are trying to do for AIDS awareness, and to do it in time before this becomes an epidemic? Or are chickens such an important part of the Nigerian livelihood that it would be impossible to completely eradicate the danger?
Posted By Anonymous Lizzy, Stanford, CA : 3:23 PM ET
I have long admired you for your excellent reporting from Africa and closer to home (especially during Katrina). The conditions in Nigeria sound worrisome. Thank you for keeping us informed.
Posted By Anonymous AO, Little Rock, AR : 3:24 PM ET
This whole bird-flu issue is nothing but hype. This may as well be called SARS II. Does anyone remember the panic around SARS anymore? The most effective way to control the population is through fear and the news bureaus don't miss a beat. Did you know that cooking infected chicken to 160 degrees kills the bird flu and makes the meat safe for consumption? Just like salmonalla - most chicken has deadly salmonella bacteria - but when properly cooked is safe to eat. More people die daily due to hospital errors than will EVER die due to bird flu. Please people - don't believe the hype!!
Posted By Anonymous Lester - Atlanta, GA : 3:31 PM ET
It is sad to say, but this should not come as a shock to anyone. When you add desperation, ignorance and disbelief together, you create a recipe for disaster.
Posted By Anonymous brenda, richmond hill, ontaio : 3:31 PM ET
I have been following the daily updates in the bird flu progression...more as entertainment than anything else. I have an atlas with all of the affected countries highlighted and have a corresponding diagram with migration patterns of birds (of which there are surprisingly few). Each day, I check the news (CNN online), and update the map. It gives my coworkers a chuckle. But on a serious note, I am struck by the lack of information that is being discussed in the media. I know that the drug companies are working feverishly on a vaccine and are very close to producing one. How worried should we be about a pandemic? These days it is hard to know the truth because it is either being hyped to hysteria or hidden.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon, Sugar Land, TX : 3:34 PM ET
140,000 chickens can feed thousands of people. There are no cases of bird flu in Nigeria right now. Health officials have probably condemned hundreds of people to starve. All of this just to stop a virus that the rich countries of the world do not want spread, because they have no cure. What about putting policies in place to stop AIDS in these countries?
Posted By Anonymous April Pang Austin, TX : 3:35 PM ET
How did the disease leap across Africa? The same Migrating birds must have stopped in central and northern Africa. I'd bet that we'll soon see this as a Pan-African problem that,once mutated, spreads to the rest of the world. Hmm...inappropriate handling of animals by Africans leading to a global health crisis---sound familiar?
Posted By Anonymous Patrick, Columbus, Ohio : 3:44 PM ET
I saw the footage and read your article this afternoon. One of my best friends is from Nigeria, he hasn�t seen your footage yet. I asked if he�d heard of how Nigeria was handling the bird-flu; as I explained what I'd seen, the look on his face was probably as shocking as mine when I first saw your footage. It�s simply a matter of educating the people. These poor Nigerians are trying to feed their families. Unfortunately they have no education, no abundance of food, and no common sense. One has to ask, is Nigeria the perfect breeding ground for a mutation?
Posted By Anonymous Joe Navarro, Burbank, CA : 3:50 PM ET
This very disturbing to hear but not at all surprising considering people are starving and they will take their chances. Can't say I blame them. If my kids were starving and I didn't own a tv set much less cable or electricity I would problably say it is a myth!
Posted By Anonymous Nicholas, Minneapolis, MN : 3:54 PM ET
very very sad, I am a Nigerian living in America, and when I heard about bird flu in Nigeria, I was not suprised at all. We bring all these problems amongs ourselves, how can a Country with so so many educated people find themselves trying to contain the bird flu without using protection. Nigeria still has a long long way to go...we are killing ourselves softly.
Posted By Anonymous Mo. Randallstown MD : 3:57 PM ET
So everyone stop whining and blaming the poor African countries for "providing the perfect uncontrolled environment for the H5N1 virus to thrive". Instead the necessary world bodies should take some action and provide this populous country with the help they will need with this situation. They've been to G8 summits amongst others. It should be pretty obvious these countries would need assistance with such a serious, risky and expensive danger lurking.
Posted By Anonymous Joan Davis, Overland Park, Kansas : 3:58 PM ET
I am an American who was raised in Nigeria ( Lagos to be exact). And I know that there would have to be a better reason (other than the "Bird Flu" has killed just about 90 people elsewhere in the world) before Nigerians would actually adhere to the warnings. And this is not that they are ignorant about the situation (as some American media would portray it), it is just that this is a source of livelihood for so many. If there is no alternative, then there would be no shortage to selling these chickens in the open market.
Posted By Anonymous Ijeoma Ezeonwuka, Washington DC : 4:00 PM ET
What is the World Health Organization doing about this? Have they sent experts out to these rural areas to "educate" the locals and provide the proper resources for disposing of infected birds?
Posted By Anonymous Yemisi, Tampa, FL : 4:04 PM ET
This just depicts the extent of poverty let loose on nigerians by their leadership. Its a terrible reality
Posted By Anonymous D. Ado, Jos, Plateau : 4:05 PM ET
Although our world has made huge technological and medical advancements in the previous decades, it would be ignorant to think that we could medicate this potential pandemic away. I believe the only cure will be with education and making sure that no one in this world should ever have to feed apon diseased flesh to sustain themselves.
Posted By Anonymous brenda, richmond hill, ontaio : 4:08 PM ET
Good story Jeff,
Hope the health authorities in Nigeria and the world as a whole is listening. The norm would be to ignore what is hapenning far away in Nigeria (Africa), but that would be a mistake that the whole world should not risk. The WHO, CDC and other international health agencies should tidy things up.
Please Jeff, stay on the ball point.
Posted By Anonymous Obiora Onwuameze, Iowa City, Iowa : 4:10 PM ET
That's the typical Nigerian adhoc solutions to major problems. We were aware that the Bird Flu syndrome hade hit other parts of the world. Yet we did nothing to prepare for the epidemic. I'm sorry to say that the health/Agriculture ministries are not equipped to solve this problem. Nigeria is a country that can't tackle malaria and you expect us to handle the biird flu crisis?
Posted By Anonymous Hassan Mohammed, Abuja, Nigeria : 4:11 PM ET
I visited Nigeria 20 years ago. It was then, and continues to be, a land of contrasts. Some of the most educated people I�ve known have been Nigerian. For the educated, Nigeria offers many of the comforts experienced in Western countries. However, I saw the most poverty that I�ve ever witnessed with my eyes also. Imagine a family of 6 living in a room the size of my youngest daughter�s room. Bathroom and kitchen are shared and outside. Will it really be possible to tell people in such poverty not to eat the food they can see because of a killer disease overseas? Can it really be worse than the malaria and other diseases they�ve learned to live with?
Posted By Anonymous LM, Modesto, CA : 4:15 PM ET
All the birds that are culled should be dumped into pits and burned--it's the only way to prevent other humans and wild animals from eating birds that have H5N1.
Posted By Anonymous Jared, Cambridge, MA : 4:18 PM ET
Through-out history many of the worlds epidemics and pandemics have come out of Africa. Africa should not be considered the lost continent. The wealthy Nations of the world need to intervene by reducing poverty and corruption. Help develop environmental laws that will only increase the health and life span of the people. There are desperate situations and it doesn't seem like there's help on the way. We just don't hear enough about Africa in the news. If there stories were brought to the attention of more people arounf the world, I would bet more would be done.
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie, San Antonio, TX : 4:19 PM ET
As a Nigerian American I'm troubled that this story isnt getting more attention. My parents just returned from Nigeria and didnt even know that the virus had arrived there (a scary thougt). At the same time I'm not surprised. Will Nigeria be forgotten until its too late? This reminds me of the "look the other way" approach FEMA took regarding the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina... but on a world stage. The World Health Organization or the UN needs to step in immediately to educate and help contain this deadly virus before we all suffer the consequences.
Posted By Anonymous Temi Osilaja, Los Angeles, CA : 4:19 PM ET
While sad, I swear to you all this is just another reprecussion of the brutal colonization of Africa. Poor education, sub-standard living, this is all because of the corruption and foreign rape of Nigeria (among other west-african sub-saharan nations). Remember that country brings in billions in oil and others do the same in diamonds and other natural resources. If people are still so poor that they have to eat contaminated chickens there is a bigger problem at the root of this.

Unfortunately you cannot really do anything about that at this point, because a reversal of such conditions would cause money to drain out of fat and powerful pockets. So we will have to simply accept this and sit back as it unfolds. It has all been written.
Posted By Anonymous Temi, Houston Texas : 4:23 PM ET
That is incredible. I hope lots of CDC people watch this piece so they can get the hell over there and control the situation. Some educators might not be a bad idea, either, sounds like the locals can use it.

Hope you're being careful there, Jeff!
Posted By Anonymous Allie, Piscataway, NJ : 4:25 PM ET
PRESS RELEASE by WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO) seems as credible as a FEMA press conference............
The WHO issued a press release on 2/13/06 on its web site stating that it expects to offer support to Nigeria including but not limited to the following: personal protective gear, (masks and gloves), as well as drugs like Tamiflu while at the same time acknowledging that "Containing the outbreak in Nigeria... will save the world community a public health nightmare." Today is 2/17/06 and CNN is once again reporting about how what is said and what is done are two different things. Instead of a Hurricane and New Orleans, its Bird Flu and Nigeria....when will civilization take responsibility and act civilized? Imagine the threat of AIDS compounded by an Avian Flu Pandemic...how will anyone survive in Africa?
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Naples, FL : 4:28 PM ET
90 PEOPLE HAVE DIED OUT OF THE BILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD. ONCE YOU HIT AT LEAST A MILLION PEOPLE LETS TALK THEN.
Posted By Anonymous MORRIS, NORFOLK ,VA : 4:30 PM ET
I am very pleased that you are covering this story. It has received fairly wide coverage on BBC for at least several weeks, but I have seen very little in the American mainstream media.
Posted By Anonymous Kimberly Heimert, NY, NY : 5:19 PM ET
This topic is so important to cover especially with all the other economic, social, political and health problems that Nigeria and all of Africa suffer from. The bird flu discriminates against no one and if it does indeed spread thruout Africa the end result will be beyond catastrophic.
Posted By Anonymous Michele, Reston, Virginia : 5:42 PM ET
and why cant all the governments of the world pull together and make sure the culling gets done, considering the worldwide threat involved?
Posted By Anonymous Sue, Los Angeles, CA : 5:47 PM ET
The sad part about this is that, although it's just a matter of time before we see it here, it's these same third world countries that will have the highest mortality rates. We're talking areas where there are NO vaccination programs at all.

And if a vaccine is discovered and manufactured, you can bet it will be here, in Europe or in China. In an effort to save their own people, I don't see any of those countries, including the US, parting with a single dose until they have it under control within their own borders. If this does turn into a pandemic, the populations in Africa, the poorer parts of Asia, India and the Middle East will suffer the worst.

I shudder to think what's in store for the Middle East. Flu viruses thrive in warm dry climates. And they don't have the resources to stop it. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan....they're all, to varying degrees, not the hot spots Iraq, Israel and Iran are. If they're hit too hard, we're going to see serious political shifts in the region.

China's economy is rising but it's still precarious and not very resilient. A pandemic like this could topple their economy the wrong way. The United States economy would come close to a grinding halt during a necessary self-imposed quarantine and the *county* level.

When you think of all the Economic and Political implications this becomes more frightening than anything we've seen in the last 100 years.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy, Buena Park, California : 5:49 PM ET
Eventually the world will see a pandemic. We need to actively be discussing the rationing of healthcare when that pandemic occurs. ICU beds and ventilators could not support the level of care that occurs and is expected routinely in this country. When will the media and politician's start to welcome these discussions?
Posted By Anonymous Barbara Clifford Winston-Salem, NC : 5:53 PM ET
About them people eating the contaminated chicken i say they don't know any better and it's sad that there government doesn't educate them about the risks of this.
Posted By Anonymous mark chicago, il : 5:56 PM ET
Cooked meat from infected birds is safe to eat, and since the virus is respiratory, with a miniscule chance of infecting a person even when alive, once the birds are dead there is virtually no chance of infection. While it may seem disturbing to have people culling birds without protective equipment, the reality is that those people do not need it. A far greater risk than bird flu is salmonella poisoning. And talking about relative risks, many reputable sources place the HIV infection rate in West Africa at 15% of the population. Southern Africa's HIV rate is greater than a third of the population. If the developed world actually cared about the health of the people performing this culling, it would actually fund HIV prevention and treatment efforts in a manner appropriate to the crisis. Since all available models of HIV infection show that it spreads at a exponential rate (as opposed to a geometric rate) relative to the percentage of the population already infected, the developed world would be protecting itself in addition to saving countless lives. Bird flu, as you stated, has killed 90 people worldwide. HIV has killed over 20 million. Which do you think should be the priority?
Posted By Anonymous David Hutchinson, Washington, DC : 6:07 PM ET
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