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Shock of farmers using Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs, to ‘fatten’ chicken

By OSCAR OBONYO | November 3rd 2013


[email protected]


That mouth-watering piece of chicken that you routinely devour at your local restaurant or house could be laced with Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs, which are meant to slow down the dreaded HIV virus.

The appalling revelations by veterinary doctors operating in Murang’a and Kiambu counties are bound to send shock waves among lovers of the chicken delicacy and traders of poultry products alike. The populous Nairobi County relies heavily on the supply of poultry products from the neighbouring counties.

“We have reliably established from our clients around Thika and Murang’a that commercial broiler farmers are adding ARVs to broiler feed to enhance weight gain and are able to sell off birds at four weeks,” discloses Dr Elloy Otieno. The veterinarians partly attribute the use of ARVs to “fatten chicken” to sheer ignorance. The notion that chicken will fatten after being fed on ARVs, as is often the case with humans, is a pointer that the farmers are merely transferring observations made with the humans in an attempt to boost the productivity in the chicken.

But the Kenyan farmers are not alone in this apparent mischief. In Uganda, there are reported cases of (mis)use of ARVs to fatten pigs, while in Zimbabwe, Parliament was recently told of instances of chicken imported from Brazil being smeared with embalming fluids, normally used on dead bodies, in order to preserve them and make them appear fresh by the time of being sold.

Dr Kenneth Wameyo explains that when some farmers see veterinarians apply extra label drugs meant for human beings on their animals, they assume the same can be repeated on every human drug for animals. “Sadly, they are tempted to proceed with such experiments without any further reference to us, the licensed practitioners,” observes Wameyo.

“Sensitive” nature

“ARVs work through suppressing or killing virus particles thus reducing the destruction of CD4 cells. This leads to PLWAs (people living with Aids) being able to eat and thus maintain good weight,” observes Dr Humphrey Mbugua, Technical Advisor, Kenya Poultry Breeders’ Association (KPBA).

However, Mbugua says he is not aware of any feed miller who has recommended their usage.

Although veterinary experts fear the exercise may be rampant, they are reluctant to give away names of the farmers engaged in the malpractice for fear of “victimising” the said farmers who may have already been warned or because of the “sensitive” nature of the business. A spot check by The Standard on Sunday in the affected regions did not yield much either as most farmers denied existence of the vice or declined to talk altogether.

When Dr Otieno first made the astonishing revelation through an online forum for Kenyan and Ugandan veterinarians in June this year, our contact in Thika town area promised to take us on a guided trip to homes of some of those suspected to be involved in the acts.

But the man, a small-scale poultry trader from Kenol area in Murang’a, later changed his for fear of losing business or getting blacklisted by large scale farmers and suppliers: “I initially thought you were carrying out research but if this is for publication, please count me out. And even if I introduce you to the farmers using ARVs, they will not confess nor open up on how they get the drugs.”    

However, another source divulged to The Standard on Sunday how some individuals who are HIV positive fleece the ministry of Health of the free ARV drugs, which are distributed for free. According to our source, a beneficiary of the programme registers at several centres, where he/she gets ARVs, which he then sells to needy persons who are shy to openly register for the free service, or sell to unscrupulous dealers, some who use the drugs for unintended use.

According to former Director of the National Aids/STI Control Programme (NASCOP), Dr Ibrahim Mohamed, those who unknowingly consume ARVs laced foodstuff place themselves in grave danger.

Besides creating an astronomical drugs shortage for HIV/Aids patients, Mohamed warns that taking ARVs when one is healthy reduces its effectiveness when one eventually gets infected. This, explains Mohamed, is because such a person would have had an optimal dose and therefore developed resistance to the drug.

Mohamed, who is now Principal Secretary for Commerce and Tourism, was reacting to a moving investigative feature by Jane Ngoiri of NTV on makers of cheap bottled alcohol who use ARVs and mortuary preservatives to make the brew.

However, Dr Fredrick Wang’ombe of Peak Feeds Ltd, is more cautious. He warns against the alarm over use of ARVs pointing out that the poultry market is very sensitive. Wang’ombe, who is a broiler feed processor in the said region with over 200 broiler farmers, says he has not come across any farmer who uses ARVs.

 Reacts Dr Mwenda Mbaka: “It is not wise to endorse unfounded rumours. And it is not wise either to dispel rumours on unfounded grounds. After rumours about use of ARVs in brewing alcohol, for instance, the media investigated and came up with the documentary that informed those who were initially dismissive of such claims.”

Wameyo further attributes the current development to the high production costs. This follows government’s decision to increase VAT rates of poultry feeds. According to Wameyo, this has compelled some farmers to use shortcuts, including using ARVs.

The experts regret the use of ARVs but call on fellow “responsible veterinarians” to protect the profession: “I call it Vet Medicine of Myths because the people doing such things are not fundamentally bent on causing harm to public health. They are among the many innovative Kenyans who will do anything the grapevine, real or an abstraction of their imagination, persuades them that it can boost their profits,” reacts Dr Mbaka.

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