On June 12, 2023, Nigeria’s Democracy Day, the Federal Government of Nigeria raised the alarm over the outbreak of a deadly disease known as anthrax. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. It occurs naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world. People can contract the disease by coming in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products.
While anthrax is not contagious, people can still get infected when spores get into the body. When anthrax spores get inside the body, they can come alive, and then multiply, spread out in the body, produce toxins, and cause severe illness. This happens when people breathe in spores, eat food or drink water contaminated with spores, or get spores in a cut or scrape in the skin. For animals, they can become infected when they breathe in or ingest spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. They include cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, and deer.
Devastating in faraway Ghana but doubted in Ibadan.
The presence of the bacterial disease was confirmed in northern Ghana, which borders Burkina Faso and Togo. Amidst the hype, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ernest Umakhihe, advised citizens to avoid the consumption of hides (ponmo), smoked meat, and bush meat to avoid possible spread. In the public health advisory jointly signed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Nigeria was said to be at high risk of importing the disease from Ghana, where it was confirmed both in humans and animals on June 1.
Nonetheless, that did not stop a local meat seller in Ibadan (Oyo State) from calling the warning a needless hype that would eventually go away as other events occur and overshadow it. He argued that from time to time there were reports of such zoonotic diseases which did not really affect people. In his words, “That is how they always shout about one meat or the other every year but nothing happens to consumers eventually. These diseases don’t really affect us; they just put unnecessary fear in people’s minds.” He reminded of “killer ponmo,” which rent the airwaves some years ago. Nothing came out of it, according to him.
Three human and at least 30 animal deaths have been recorded in Ghana.
Outbreak of the disease has plunged livestock farmers and meat consumers in northern Ghana into dire situations. According to a Citi Newsroom report, the Deputy Ranking Member of the Health Committee in the Ghanaian Parliament, Mark Nawaane, revealed that three persons and at least 30 animals had been confirmed dead following the infection. The outbreak was first discovered in Binduri and has spread to Boku, Boku West, Pusiga, Talensi, Kwahu, and Mopani districts. As of June 7, 2023, three human deaths have been recorded and about 13 cases have tested positive for the anthrax bacteria.
He also revealed that a number of cattle, sheep, and goats exceeding 30 have died. There was a video showing dozens of cattle littering a large farm in northern Ghana. He confirmed that there is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and other stakeholders to contain the situation. To curb the outbreak, the Ghanaian government placed a ban on the movement of ruminants such as goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, and dogs from the eastern corridor of the Upper East region.
Nigerian government’s efforts to curb the disease.
As Ghana grapples with the sordid effect of the outbreak, the Federal Government is also attempting to shed light on it and put up preventive measures. In the statement signed by Umakhihe, he listed the symptoms of anthrax to include cough, fever, and muscle aches, which if not diagnosed and treated early could lead to pneumonia, severe lung problems, difficulty in breathing, shock, and death. He also noted that being a severe bacterial disease that affects both humans and livestock such as cows, pigs, camels, sheep and goats, it responds to treatment with antibiotics and supportive therapy. He also noted that annual vaccination with anthrax spore vaccines was available at the National Veterinary Research Institute Vom, Plateau State, adding that it was the cheapest and easiest means of prevention and control of the disease in animals.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Website