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Anthrax: Expert calls for effective veterinary, human surveillance

by Haruna Gimba

By Asmau Ahmad

A Professor of Public Health, Prof. Tanimola Akande, has called for effective veterinary and human health surveillance systems to prevent the outbreak of anthrax disease in the country. 

Akande, Consultant Public Health Physician, Department of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Ilorin, made the call in an interview on Tuesday in Lagos. 

He said that integrated surveillance was critical at the human-animal interface for rapid detection and response to emerging infections using One Health approach.

According to him, zoonotic diseases are global health threats, saying that an effective one health approach was critical to improve the health of people, animals (pets, livestock, and wildlife), plants, and the environment.

“By protecting one, we help protect all; we must ensure all animals are healthy; unhealthy animals should be properly treated. 

“Usually at abattoirs, animals are supposed to be assessed by veterinarians to ensure they don’t have diseases, if that is done, the chances of humans getting infected with anthrax are reduced. 

“However, our vigilance and surveillance should be heightened because it’s not all animals that are slaughtered at abattoirs,” he said.

He advised that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD); Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) should strengthen collaboration and vigilance to check the outbreak.

Akande commended the public health advisory to Nigerians to stop consumption of hides (Ponmo), saying it was a timely measure that’s crucial during epidemics. 

The professor noted that the consumption of hides poses a serious risk until the situation was brought under control.

The FMARD on June 12, 2023 alerted Nigerians of the outbreak of anthrax disease within the West African sub-region; specifically, Northern Ghana bordering Burkina Faso and Togo.

The government advised Nigerians against the consumption of hides (ponmo), smoked meat and bushmeat, to avoid possible spread.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a billion cases of illnesses and millions of deaths are due to diseases or infections transmitted from animals to humans yearly. 

WHO defines anthrax as primarily zoonotic disease in herbivores caused by a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. 

It said that humans generally acquire the disease directly or indirectly from infected animals, or through occupational exposure to infected or contaminated animal products. 

The health agency said that anthrax in humans was not generally regarded as contagious, although rare records of person-to-person transmission exist. 

It said that anthrax bacteria can survive in the environment for decades by forming spores

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