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JIS News

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is enlisting the help of animal owners, particularly dog owners in ensuring the eradication of screwworms.
Despite the continued success of the National Screwworm Eradication Programme, (NSEP) in employing measures to rid the country of the new world screwworm fly, the lack of full participation from dog owners, has been a major setback.
This is according to Director of the Veterinary Services Division, in the Ministry, Dr. Osbil Watson.
“We find that over 70 per cent of the cases are from dogs and interestingly, the majority of those are from Kingston and St. Andrew. What we find is that dog owners are not living up to their responsibility of taking care of their dogs,” Dr. Watson notes in an interview with JIS News.
The Director notes further that it is found that a lot of dog owners do not see their dogs, sometimes for more than a week, as they may leave their home for long periods of time, leaving the animals unattended. He says that field workers at times have to treat screwworm wounds in these animals with the help of neighbours.
“One of the things that we are looking at is to strengthen the law so that all owners of animals, especially dogs, will be held accountable for keeping these dogs in a manner that the dogs are not mistreated,” Dr. Watson notes.
The screwworm fly is an insect that produces the maggots that feed on the wounds of warm-blooded animals (including humans).
The Director said that this pest causes severe loss and suffering, both to humans and animals, often times resulting in death. He also points out that a lot of money is spent and time wasted by farmers in treating these screwworm cases.
It is estimated that the eradication of the screwworm will save Jamaica US$7 million annually.
“We have had tremendous success in the programme. We managed to have the cases down to approximately 200 cases per month now. We are down from about 460 cases in July (2007),” Dr. Watson tells JIS News.
Undertaken by the Agriculture Ministry, the National Screwworm Eradication Programme was officially launched in July 1998. Since March 2007, the Ministry has been employing a new approach in eradicating screwworms; an environmentally-friendly Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), where boxes are used to disperse sterile flies into the wild, as opposed to the chill fly system, which was previously used.
Through SIT, millions of sterile screwworm flies are released across the country each week. This system utilises pupae acquired from a plant in Mexico.
“The release is done at least four days a week right across the island, and it is hoped that over time, sterile male flies will mate with the flies in the wild, effectively reducing the population of wild screwworm flies,” Dr. Watson explains.
Dr. Watson further notes that the programme is backed up by a ground surveillance team. There are NSEP field officers are in every parish, who are responsible for inspecting animals, treating wounds, collecting samples for submission to the laboratory and distributing wound powder to farmers and pet owners. This powder, which is provided free of cost, can be used to prevent and treat screwworm infestations.
In addition, the NSEP has engaged the help of private veterinarians, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), livestock associations, and other organisations in an effort to be more accessible to the public.
A major component of the eradication programme, is a series of public education initiatives, which incorporate radio and television advertisements, and the distribution of flyers and pamphlets, targeting specific groups.
The screwworm has been eradicated from several countries, including Mexico, the United States of America (USA) and Central America. Panama was the most recent country that eradicated the screwworm in 2006.
“It is hoped that with the help now of all the Jamaicans, especially the dog owners, we would be the next country to have eradicated screwworms,” the Director stresses.
In a bid to further strengthen the country’s veterinary services the Division is currently undergoing a restructuring exercise. Cabinet has already approved the employment of additional animal health technicians. It also sanctioned the re-introduction of extension services to livestock farmers.
This, Dr. Watson notes, will place renewed focus on the veterinary health care of livestock, “which in fact was almost reduced to zero, save and apart from a few veterinarians who actually volunteered their services on a whole to treat farmers’ animals when they are in need.”
“In employing the additional staff, we will be able to now re-introduce a system whereby we can offer some amount of veterinary health care to the farmers and of course to strengthen our disease monitoring and disease surveillance programmes. In addition to that, we are moving in the direction of utilising technology at the highest level,” Dr. Watson points out.
The Director further informs that the Ministry is also working to implement disease surveillance programmes for specific categories of animals. “We want to implement a swine disease monitoring programme (and) a cattle disease monitoring programme. We have already implemented a poultry disease surveillance unit, and we are also strengthening the artificial insemination and animal fertility unit,” he tells JIS News.
In addition, the refurbished National Quarantine Station at Plumb Point was officially re-opened in January of this year. The quarantine station is now capable of housing more than twice the number of horses, that it once housed.
Improving the laboratory capacity and capability of the Veterinary Services Division, is also a key area of focus in the restructuring process. This, he notes, includes training staff, as well as working closer with the farming community and private veterinarians “to foster a sense of wholesomeness, in terms of a holistic approach towards having a sound veterinary system in Jamaica.”
Dr. Watson notes that another key aspect of the modernisation programme, is the introduction of an e-trade system, whereby individuals can now apply on-line for import permits, and very soon for health certification for export.
“We are also looking at working in conjunction with other regulatory agencies in the implementation of the one-stop-shop facility to allow for easier access of our importers, as part of the whole business facilitation process of Government. Permits are now processed online. For example, if the farmer has some pigs that probably mysteriously died over night after consuming some feed, they would take a sample of that feed and they submit to the laboratory here, and we would conduct several tests on that sample of feed,” he explains.
Dr. Watson notes that the Veterinary Services Division, has the very important role of safeguarding the population of the country’s livestock industry, and by doing so, ensure the safe, and wholesome quantity of animal product and animal proteins for human consumption.
This he says has a direct relationship with the country’s food security. “For example the poultry industry is valued in excess of $12 billion, and so, you cannot afford not to have a veterinary structure which gives the guarantee that we put the systems in place to do the necessary surveillance and monitoring to safeguard the country’s livestock industry,” he states.
The Veterinary Services Division oversees national health, animal status, and welfare through its various services offered island wide. The Division operates a Diagnostic Laboratory service for the protection of the livestock industry; certifies the health of animals; and is involved in the import/export inspection of live animals, meats and meat products; and it offers artificial insemination services for cattle, pigs and goats.

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