Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2021: Nigeria’s challenges to implement action plan for food system protection

Implementing national action plan is cost-intensive and requires human resource 

Tochi Okwor
Published: Tuesday 23 November 2021
Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2021: Nigeria's initiatives, challenges to implement national action plan for food system protection

Food animals, fish and vegetables are recognised as significant reservoirs of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The “farm to fork” continuum is an ecosystem where large quantities of antibiotics are used. 

Nigeria recognises that antimicrobial resistance (AMR), if left unchecked, has a wide-ranging implication in terms of health security, food security, environmental well-being and socio-economic development of not only Nigeria but globally. 

Nigeria keyed into the global AMR agenda by formulating the National Action Plan (NAP) on Antimicrobial Resistance 2017-2022. This foundational NAP attempted to include actions to be taken on human health, food systems and the environment. It sets out to address five focus areas in line with the global NAP.

Implementation initiatives 

One of the first steps taken in the implementation of the NAP was the development of Nigeria’s AMR governance structure based on the ‘One Health’ approach. A key achievement is the establishment of the national antimicrobial resistance coordination committee (AMRCC).

The purpose of the AMRCC is to guide, oversee and monitor AMR-related activities in all sectors to ensure systematic and comprehensive implementation. 

There have been ongoing efforts to create heightened awareness on antibiotic resistance through continuous awareness as well as sensitisation campaigns on hand hygiene and safe food handling practices.

Since 2017, the World Antibiotic Awareness Week has been used by all sectors to create awareness on AMR with various stakeholders in human health, animals and the environment engaged. 

Surveillance is an essential step in addressing AMR in the food sector and this can be achieved through an integrated food chain surveillance system from farm to fork. A major achievement in this area in Nigeria is the designation of the National Virology Research Institute as the national reference laboratory for animal health.

The central diagnostic laboratory then coordinates the activities and carries out referral diagnosis for states and private veterinarians. 

A robust biosecurity measure in food and agriculture will significantly reduce AMR bacteria from farm to fork. Such a biosecurity effort should use a ‘One Health’ framework and include critical concepts such as good agricultural practices, good hygiene practices, good veterinary practices, hazard analysis and critical control as well as microbiological risk assessment and management. 

Actions taken by Nigeria in this area include conducting quarterly meetings of the National Food Safety Management Committee for proper oversight of food safety issues and the development of the farm and transport biosecurity guideline draft, which is currently undergoing stakeholder review. 

The National Veterinary Research Institute produces some animal vaccines (bacterial and viral vaccines).

Stumbling blocks

Nigeria’s food safety system is regulated by at least three different competent authorities, each with some degree of overlap in responsibilities. There are weaknesses in collaboration and coordination with poor communication among various competent authorities, leading to inefficiencies in resource utilisation and poor levels of control of food safety standards.

The implementation of NAP has been limited in the crop sector and it appears that the current NAP left out key aspects of the crop sector. One challenge of implementing the NAP, particularly in the animal and crop sections, is the cost-intensive nature and human resources needed to achieve the desired impact.

In Nigeria, surveillance programmes for antimicrobial use (AMU) and AMR in animals and plant sectors are either lacking or low. The dearth of data on AMU may be due to the limited coordination with the private sector, livestock keepers and small-scale crop farmers as well as lack of tools and human resources and a weak regulatory framework. 

There is no national animal identification and traceability system in place in Nigeria and no registration of livestock owners or livestock premises. This means that livestock management is not regulated. 

Concerns have been raised on the use of adulterated feeds in the rearing of the food-producing animals leading to AMR. The provision of veterinary services is done by government and private animal health facilities. However, a majority of these are situated in urban areas with limited provision to the rural areas. 

Address challenges

Nigeria has always recognised the need to take a ‘One health’ approach and developed the NAP in line with this. The weakness observed in various pillars of the response such as environment as well as food and agriculture (non-representation of the crop-producing sector) has further highlighted the need to make more efforts to ensure that line ministries and other stakeholders work together more closely.

We continue to work towards taking ownership of our national AMR response and will continue to make a case for inclusion of AMR activities, including those in the food and animal sector, into the budgets of the line ministries.

The value of good data on AMU and AMR in food animals and crops is very important to support the understanding and management of the AMR problem in the food chain. 

Nigeria is working to design targeted surveillance systems for AMU in terrestrial and aquatic animals as well as in the crop production sector.  

It is apparent that Nigeria needs to continue improving on its efforts towards utilising the ‘One Health’ framework and implementing multifaceted and integrated measures to ensure food safety and security, and limit the threat of AMR in the food chain. 

Some key challenges have been identified in implementing AMR activities in food systems. Nigeria will use the lessons learnt to develop the next NAP to encompass the human, animal and environmental sectors and address AMR issues all through the “farm to fork” continuum. 

Tochi Okwor is the chair, Nigeria Antimicrobial Resistance Coordination Committee. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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