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[LAGOS] Nigeria has banned imports of live and frozen poultry from any part of the world in a bid to prevent the bird flu that has emerged in Asia from gaining a foothold in its own poultry industry.

The government says that the ban is the only way to prevent the disease from entering the country, which normally imports a large amount of frozen poultry, mainly from Europe.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has told Nigerian veterinary surgeons to be extra vigilant, saying "everything must be done to protect the country from bird flu". Officials are particularly concerned that, if the disease were to establish itself in Nigeria, it could spread to humans – as it has already done in Asia, causing widespread concern because of the current lack of effective treatment.

Roger Aboujaoude, general manager of Zartech, one of the Nigeria's largest poultry firms, says that the ban shows that the government is taking seriously its responsibility to protect its citizens.

"Imagine if the government had not responded quickly," he says. "It would have endangered lives and our business would have been negatively affected. People would not want to buy our products again, and that would have been a big problem for the poultry business in Nigeria."

Olu Akerejola, a veterinary surgeon, says that he welcomes the ban. But he urges the Nigerian government to intensify surveillance in the country for animal diseases such as bird flu.

"We do not know where all [our] imported frozen chickens come from," he says. Some of those currently entering the country "could be birds that are condemned in South East Asia and people just package and bring them into Nigeria. We also have test the birds within the country, and watch out for signs of influenza in them".

Jarhlet Umoh, another veterinarian, says that more animal disease surveillance units should be set up, and more veterinarians should be trained in disease control, not merely treatment.

Meanwhile, other developing nations are exploring different ways of preventing bird flu from entering their borders. A meeting organised by global health groups last week in Bangkok, Thailand announced that mass vaccination of uninfected chicks could be the best way to control spread of the disease. But such a strategy would be costly and complex to carry out.

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