JIS News

As countries worldwide implement measures for early detection and prevention of the Avian Influenza (Bird Flu), response mechanisms in Jamaica and the region are also being intensified.
Among these response activities is a workshop on emergency assistance for early detection of the virus, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), through its regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The workshop is being held at the Hotel Four Seasons in Kingston, from November 13 to 17, with representation from 13 Caribbean islands. The forum will provide training in epidemiology surveillance and management of poultry and wild birds for the early detection of Bird Flu in the American continent.
Addressing the opening session today (Nov. 13), Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Roger Clarke thanked the FAO for spearheading the US$0.5 million initiative, which was launched in May 2006, to provide emergency assistance for early detection of Bird Flu in the Caribbean sub-region.
Mr. Clarke pointed out that the virus continued to threaten the livelihoods of millions of poor livestock farmers as well as poultry producers, with the potential danger becoming even more immediate with the virus progressing north westerly since 2004.
He said that against the background of reports of cases of the virus in 13 new countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had urged countries to strengthen their surveillance, laboratory diagnostic services, and emergency preparedness procedures.
Focusing on the region, he said Caribbean poultry production was critical to the social and economic landscape of the region, with more than 44 million dozen eggs and 130 million broiler birds produced by CARICOM countries each year.
“There are also in excess of 2,600 commercial poultry farmers in the region, employing some 35,000 to 40,000 people. Additionally, more than 16,000 backyard poultry farmers have been identified and the total ex-factory/farm sales have been valued at US$5 billion,” the Minister told the gathering.
“For Jamaica, chicken continues to be the most affordable protein source of choice for the mass of the population, and poultry rearing has consistently played the critical role of providing quick cash for small farm households,” he continued, adding that Jamaica was currently self-sufficient in egg production with some 2,000 layer farmers supplying an average of 11 million dozen eggs annually, from which there were earnings of $660 million.
With this in mind, Mr. Clarke pointed out that an outbreak of the virus in the region would, “not only have devastating economic and public health-related consequences, but would also pose a serious food security risk. We therefore welcome this FAO training intervention”.
He said that although there was no immediate threat to the Caribbean sub-region, the training would go a far way in facilitating preparedness to meet regional and international obligations.
In his remarks, FAO Representative for Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize, Dr. Dunstan Campbell emphasised that, “this workshop is extremely important in assisting countries to put together robust animal disease preparedness plans for invasive species”.
“In this particular case, the focus is on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and one of its main transmitters. We are conscious that this region is at present, free of HPAI and the chances of the virus being transmitted by wild birds at this time are slim.
However, we are also aware of the impact that its arrival can have on the economies and health of this region,” he added.
The workshop is part of the FAO’s broader comprehensive programme in the region that involves strengthening and developing the capacity of veterinary laboratories to test for Avian Influenza, the training of technicians to identify Bird Flu symptoms, effective national surveillance plans and programmes, and working with the media to inform the public in understanding the nature of the virus and its health implications.
The specific objective of the workshop is: to train veterinarians from the national veterinary services of each country, so that they can serve as trainers in their respective countries, on sample collection techniques, proper handling and shipment to reference laboratories, of samples from poultry and wild birds.
On completion of the course, each participant should have knowledge on the epidemiology and pathology of the HPAI (H5N1) virus and be able to understand and design surveillance programmes; understand the importance of approaching the problem in a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional manner; know how to collect samples from live and dead birds; know about current regulations applied to air transportation of samples; have knowledge of proper personal safety protocols and disinfectant procedures, and which actions must be taken in the event of wild bird or poultry mortalities when HPAI is suspected.