Commericail poultry farmers are going for vaccination of their stock against bird flu, but use of inferior quality vaccination is fraught with great risks, experts warn.
Nigeria to date has officially banned the use of vaccines to tackle H5N1.Through culling, quarantine, disinfecting and surveillance of affected areas, "Nigeria has achieved good success in reducing the disease incidence," according to Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a report.
More than one million birds have been destroyed across Nigeria since February 2006 when the virus was first detected in the country. However, cases of the virus have since been confirmed in 22 of Nigeria's 36 states and infections still exist in 14 of those states.
In the country's commercial capital Lagos one person died of the virus in February.
Bird flu experts are concerned about reports that large-scale farmers around Lagos and in the north of the country have been buying the imported vaccines through local markets that are poorly regulated and frequently sell fake or defective products.
The head of the poultry farmers' association in Nigeria's northern state of Kano, Auwalu Haruna, said over 60 percent of farmers in the association have been forced out of business due to bird flu.
Haruna said farmers find implementing the recommended control measures tedious and expensive. "Most farmers lack the capacity and the will to apply them," he said.
The FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health warn that with unregulated use of vaccines the H5N1 virus could mutate into a new more deadly strain.
Some countries in Asia and Africa have vaccination programmes which have been effective, FAO says, but the agency says the programmes require strict monitoring.
FAO recently urged Nigeria to vaccinate as part of its control strategy.
"Nigeria is encouraged to seriously consider targeted vaccination of poultry where appropriate, using quality vaccines and applying strict monitoring procedures," FAO officials said in a statement after a mission to the country in February.
However, vaccination could have an adverse effect on Nigeria's chicken exports, particularly to South Africa, said an official with the Nigerian Agriculture Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"There are countries that test our products for the virus and once you start vaccinating, then traces of the virus will show up and they will stop buying," he said.