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Inside Abuja’s abattoirs another pandemic looms

With operators of abattoirs in Abuja not observing the COVID-19 protocols, residents of the nation’s capital may be in for more health challenges, IDU JUDE reports

Inside Abuja’s abattoirs

That the Coronavirus Disease-2019 (CO- VID-19) is a zoonotic disease with global impact is not in doubt. That countries are mapping out intervention measures to flat- ten the curve is equally not in contention. What, however, is agitating the minds of people across the globe is that the virus is spreading despite efforts to checkmate it.

In Nigeria, for instance, no fewer than 116, 655 persons have contracted the virus even as she has recorded about 1,485 deaths. It is, therefore, not surprising that the authori- ties are seeking measures to stop the virus.

Recall that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) was first reported among individuals who had either visited or had consumed food sold at the wet animal market in Wuhan, China in late December 2019.

The outbreak compelled the Chinese au- thorities to close all the wet animal markets in the Hubei province to curb transmission of the virus.

However, the unhygienic conditions of ab- attoirs in Nigeria, especially in Abuja, may be a perfect breeding ground for the virus which could pose a threat to public health. For instance, butchers are more likely to encounter contaminated objects or surfaces and when they do, they may unknowingly infect themselves by touching their noses, mouth, or eyes with contaminated hands and by extension affect other buyers and consum- ers.

Consequently, the virus could find its way into the respiratory tract to initiate an infec- tion. Worst still, the lack of social distancing in the abattoirs can promote local transmis- sion among butchers, buyers, and others whom they encounter, if some of them are infected and remain asymptomatic.

These asymptomatic individuals, if they are not immediately identified, isolated, and treated, can constitute a potential reservoir in the transmission of the virus within the abattoirs and in the community at large. While it is an overstatement to state that the current pandemic poses a threat of zoonotic transmission, there is the need for the Feder- al Government to make concerted efforts in order to restore a sustainable sanitary regula- tion in the abattoirs. This is to forestall any outbreak of another virus that maybe more deadly than SARS-CoV-2

In fact, investigations by ThisNigeria point to the growing concerns of the unhygienic conditions of abattoirs in Abuja amidst the nCOVID-19 pandemic.

Inside the abattoirs

In Abuja, the nation’s capital, findings by our correspondent on the activities of some of the abattoirs’ operators, meat sellers and consumers suggest that another epidemic is the offing. Indeed, investigations show that many operators of the abattoirs use the most germ-infested methods, even as the entire meat processing from killing of the cows to their roasting are carried out in an unkempt environment. The surroundings are also covered with soot and other unhygienic sub- stances.

A butcher, Aliyu Ibrahim, corroborated this saying there was urgent need to clean-up the surroundings. Also, a consultant epidemiol- ogy at Nyanya Hospital, Abuja, Dr. James Yakub, said that situation in FCT abattoirs amid Covid-19 pandemic has become source of concern owing to the non-compliance to the protocols. Describing the situation as unfortunate, Yakub insisted that the government had not done enough.

According to him, the non-compliance is an- other Covid-19 super spreader in waiting. He added, “Have you seen the way these boys who kill the cows behave at the abattoirs? You can see that there is zero protection.

There is no provision of Personal Protective Equipment. And saliva droplets go in the meat as they scream and yell at one another. It is true that the heat of cooking meat can kill any disease, but the concern is the spread before cooking.”

He insisted that there must serious aware- ness as well as proper monitoring from supervisory organizations to avoid another super spreader from unhygienic meat. For in- stance, ThisNigeria further learnt that cows killed are roasted with burnt motor tyres, in addition to the dilapidating structure holding the modern slaughterhouse.

According to findings, there are no potable water supply, waste disposal facility, electric- ity, tarred road and transportation, yet the abattoir, constructed more than 15 years ago by the Abuja Municipal Area Council, is a beehive of activities. It has two changing rooms which are not being used, the ceilings and walls of the building are covered by soot that have settled there over the years. The ceilings are broken, a sign of years of neglect.

While the dilapidated slaughterhouse is the only one serving residents of Karu, Nyanyan, Mararaba communities as well as Asokoro, Garki, Wuse, it is approximated that no fewer than 7,300 cows are slaughtered in a year at the abattoir with the AMAC raking about N1.46m in revenue. Even with no sign that the abattoir is under any supervision from the AMAC, its authorities collect N1,000 as levy on each cow killed in the slaughterhouse every day. Ibrahim added, “We kill between 15 and 20 cows here every day and pay N1,000 to the council for every cow slaugh- tered here.” Besides, another butcher, who only gave his name as Malik, noted that suc- cessive administrations of the council had yet to work on the abattoir since it was opened.

 

According to him, the only source of water in the abattoir is a well dug so many years ago. He added, “The well provides water only dur- ing the raining season. Once the dry season sets in and the level water reduces, we are compelled to wash the meat with pond or wa- ter from the nearby canal. Of course, these other sources are unclean.” Unlike slaugh- terhouses in developed countries where animals butchered are transported mechani- cally with trolleys and refrigerated vehicles, in Abuja, particularly at the Karu abattoir, the butchers use two long iron carriers in their operations.

ThisNigeria observed that the butchers do not use trolleys or vehicles in their services. The Chairman of Karu Area Council, Musa Dikko, could not be reached to react to these observations. He neither answered calls to his mobile phone nor replied to the text message sent to the phone by our cor- respondent. Karu is a satellite town under the AMAC. It is one of the six area councils in the FCT. It is also home to various public institutions, just as it extends its services extends to various parts of the city such as Nyanya, Asokoro, Garki, Wuse as well as neighbouring Mararaba in Nasarawa State. According to the 1999 Constitution, local governments councils are saddled with the responsibility of running abattoirs.

Absence of public health workers/ vet doctors

Each day that cows are slaughtered, there are no public health care workers and veter- inary officials from the council to ascertain the status of the animals.

ThisNigeria gathered that a lot of un- wholesome practices such as singe of hair of animal by fire and washing of meat with unclean water by butchers are common re- hearsals in the abattoir. Findings also show that the abattoir does not meet the mini- mum operating standards to guarantee food safety because as there is currently no national legislation relating to abattoir operations in the country.

Unhygienic disposal of waste as well as lack of treatment of waste and by products utilization are part of the reasons that the abattoir has posed a serious health risk. The environment is surrounded with dirt majorly of animal by-products as horns, hooves, bones, and paunch contents. There is also an oozing offensive odour as flies freely roam the area. Our correspondent also witnessed the slaughtering of some cows at the abattoir without any public health officer giving a go-ahead, contrary to international best practices.

It was observed that once the animals are slaughtered, they are subsequently roasted with the fire made from used tyres. Ac- cording to a report by the American Public Health Association, unlicensed workers in unmonitored slaughterhouses in developing countries (such as Ghana and Nigeria) are known to frequently use an open fire, set with scraps of automobile tires, to burn the hair of slaughtered goats and cattle before eating or cooking.

The report added, “This approach is a huge potential health risk because automo- bile tires are made of chemicals and materi- als that, when released into the environment under ambient conditions (like open fire burn- ing), can release hazardous chemicals onto the meat and into the ambient environment.”

Some examples of such pollutants, accord- ing to the association, are particulate matter, volatile organic compound (VOCs) and poly- cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Such chemicals or particulates, when released into the ambient air, may be inhaled or ingested, and could pose severe health hazards to the public or workers in and around the slaugh- terhouses.

Other revelation showed that the butchers do not wear face masks, hand gloves as well as other personal protective equip- ment against the COVID-19, more especially when they are around the heavy smoke that billows from the fire, they set on the animals on a daily basis

ThisNigeria also observed that the butch- ers seem unaware of the danger of working in a polluted environment or using vehicle tyres to burn dead animals.

To them, it is faster and cost-effective to use vehicle tyres to remove hair from the animals than any other means. “Na the tyre dey quick burn the cow and e dey burn am well,” Malik said. But when he informed about the health implications and environmental risk relating to using tyres, he dismissed the claim with a wave of hand.

Inside the main building of the Karu slaugh- terhouse, some butchers are busy washing animals using a combination of unclean water and iron sponge. Despite this unhygienic practice, many customers still besiege the place not minding the offensive odour.

Because there are no functional operational provisions for vehicles at the abattoir, meat that are ready for sales are hauled on the seats of motorcycles for transportation to other markets. This practice, experts say is against public health as it exposes the meat and consumers to multiple infections.

Hard drug abuse

One thing that features prominently at the abattoir among the butchers is the abuse of hard drugs. While many of them freely smoke Indian hemp, several also take banned co- deine. These substances, they claim, help them to be able to face their daily task. “See the kind of work we do, honestly, you must smoke ‘Igbo’ (Indian Hemp)’ said Ibrahim as he raised his head from where he was cutting meat.

Done with the cutting, Ibrahim brought out a small cellophane from his trousers. In it, was a grass-like substance, which he wrapped in a paper with saliva before lighting it. As he smoked his hemp, he brought out a small bottle that looked like a cough syrup with a white liquid content. He took off the lid and gulped the content.

Besides, the abattoir is adjacent to a colony of scavengers known by the locals as ‘Mai bola’, who are notorious for taking all manner of banned substances.

Standard Abattoirs

A former Registrar of the Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN), Markus Avong, who spoke to our correspondent, noted that as of 2015, there were only three standard abattoirs in the country, precisely in Lagos, Borno and Nasarawa states. According to him, the poor and unhygienic state of abattoirs in the FCT could trigger the incidence of the outbreak of Lassa fever in the area.

Meanwhile, a study carried out in 17 major

Currently, in many parts of the country and Abuja, inspection of animals by veterinar- ians to ascertain their level of consumption safety is rarely done. Avong attributed this neglect to lack of standards or regulations for abattoir operations in the country. He added, “Abattoir workers usually lack the necessary tools and equipment to work with, resulting in infections. “Today, the unhygienic condition of abattoirs and slaughterhouses poses a danger to public health. There are no facilities for waste management and water supply for proper washing of meat.

“Transportation of meat from abattoirs in passenger vehicles or motorcycles is a common practice in most towns and cities, and this exposes meat to disease vectors such as flies and dust”.

The council which ought to carry out the responsibility of enforcing standards in abattoir operations in the country lacks adequate legal backing. Ac- cording to him, there is no National Meat Law governing the activities of abattoir operators in the country except for states like Lagos, Anambra and Ogun. “The problem again is having laws in place to govern abattoirs and slaughterhouses.

We do not have a national meat law. There were ef- forts by the Department of Veterinary and Pest Control Services in the Federal Minis- try of Agriculture to enact a national meat law, but it did not see the light of the day. The Federal Government in 2017 said it had commenced the process of enacting a

`Meat Hygienic Act’ to regulate the opera- tions of abattoirs and slaughter slabs in the country. But many years after, the law has yet to see the light of the day.

Even as this policy uncertainty persists, the acting Secretary of Agriculture in the FCT, Mr. Ibe Chukwuemeka, noted that the administration recently initiated ac- tions to ensure the proper sanitisation of the abattoirs.

The department, according to him, has been working with the Veterinary Services Department of the area council to accomplish this mission. He added that the move was part of efforts by the FCTA to ensure the availability of wholesome meat for the populace.

The scribe, who spoke through the Director, Veterinary Services in the department, Dr. Regina Adulugba, explained that the visit to area councils recently, was based on the directive of the FCT Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Aliyu.

Noting that the minister had expressed concerns over the deplorable state of facilities and services at various slaughter slabs in the FCT, he said that plans were under- way to get to a proper and modern abattoir and meat Haulage System befitting the city’s status.

He also reminded the councils of the provisions in relevant statutes which put direct operations of slaughter slabs under the purview of area councils with the FCT agriculture secretariat providing monitoring and supervisory duties.

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