Anthrax outbreak in West Africa underscores vital need for funding vaccinations.
As Ghana and Nigeria grapple with outbreaks of anthrax, scientists say governments must prioritise funds for vaccination to prevent a re-emergence of the disease across West Africa.
Anthrax is a zoonotic disease – transmissible from animals to humans – caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.
Dozens of animals and one person died as a result of confirmed cases of anthrax in the Upper East region of northern Ghana in early June, while the disease was confirmed in Nigeria’s north-central state of Niger in July.
“We are therefore calling on the federal and state governments, philanthropies as well as well-meaning Nigerians to make donations for vaccines.”
Oladotun Fadipe, veterinarian, Nigeria
Fenteng Danso, Ghana’s head of veterinary epidemiology, told SciDev.Net that the discontinuation of vaccination in the country was to blame for the recent outbreak.
“We were doing yearly vaccinations for the northern regions, but the Ministry of Food and Agriculture was not supporting with funds so we couldn’t continue for up to five years now.
“There was no anthrax case until this year, which happened because we had stopped vaccination.”
Anthrax can infect livestock and other animals when they breathe in or ingest spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. Humans then become infected by handling animals or animal products that contain spores.
As well as causing high mortality among animals, people infected with anthrax suffer skin blisters and sores and it can lead to more serious illness.
Prevention is centred around treatment and vaccination of livestock, which has mostly been discontinued in countries now witnessing an outbreak.
Danso expressed concerns about re-emergence in parts of the northern region of Ghana that falls within the anthrax belt – where there is a prolonged dry season and too little grass for ruminants such as cows and goats to feed on.
This means the animals have to graze to soil level and are more likely to inhale bacterial spores from the soil, Danso explained.
“The best control is continual vaccination of animals because anthrax is endemic in these areas,” he added.
The government of Ghana said more than 23,000 animals had been vaccinated in the affected regions, 100,000 vaccine doses had been distributed, and another 100,000 doses were being produced.
In Nigeria, the National Veterinary Research Institute says it can produce enough vaccines to cover the national herd.
“Our target is to vaccinate 10 million animals,” Maryam Muhammad, the institute’s chief executive, told SciDev.Net.
Source: Gavi News