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Health Minister, Horace Dalley has expressed concern that backyard poultry farmers could be more vulnerable to Avian Influenza should the island become affected by the infectious bird disease.
“At this point in time the government is concerned about the backyard farmers whose birds are not necessarily enclosed and therefore are significantly exposed to the possibility of contracting this disease should it reach our shores,” Minister Dalley stated while delivering the keynote address at a Risk Communication for Avian and Pandemic Influenza workshop yesterday (May 3).
The workshop, which was held at the Jamaica Conference Centre, was a collaborative undertaking of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the Caribbean Poultry Association, and the Ministries of Health and Agriculture and Land.
Mr. Dalley underscored the importance of all poultry producers maintaining strict hygiene, and cleansing and disinfecting standards in light of the fact that Avian Influenza, also referred to as bird flu, is believed to be transmitted by the droppings of migratory birds.
Pointing to the measures that have been adopted by the government thus far as preparatory action, he noted that the Cabinet Office last year instructed Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke “to activate the National Animal Emergency Committee (NEADCOM) multi-sectoral task force, to address the potential threat to animals.”
The taskforce, he informed, was asked to concentrate on the efforts required to face an outbreak of bird flu. Based on subsequent recommendations made by the taskforce, Cabinet approved $13.5 million to strengthen the surveillance and laboratory capacity within the Veterinary Services Division of the Agriculture Ministry.
Minister Dalley added that another element of “our proactive disposition is the capacity to identify each poultry farm by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) satellite, which gives us the ability to respond and quarantine an area effectively should the need arise”.
Addressing the issue of a possible influenza pandemic and its effects on Jamaica, he proposed that health technocrats needed to develop contingency measures and identify the requisite resources in the development of an emergency plan while maintaining normal services to the rest of the population.
“This might require establishing relationships with friendly neighbours who could assist Jamaica in a mode of emergency assistance including specialised temporary equipment, professional services, and or bilateral grants,” Minister Dalley noted.
He revealed that the Health Ministry was currently working on the development of a National Avian Influenza Pandemic Plan. The plan, which is slated to end by June, would include the recent efforts being made in the agricultural sector.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ernest Pate, PAHO/World Health Organisation Representative for Jamaica, Barbuda, and Cayman Islands, said his agency was concerned about the economic consequences the Caribbean poultry industry and the chain of other industries that could be adversely affected by Avian Influenza.
To this end, Dr. Pate said PAHO resolved to develop a strategic and operational plan to help countries of the Americas respond to pandemic influenza.
He said the plan called for the strengthening of capacities in such areas as steering and regulatory capacity, field investigations, detection and intervention, and communication, coordination and cooperation.
The three-day Risk Communication for Avian and Pandemic Influenza workshop is scheduled to continue until Friday, May 5. Its main objectives include improving risk communication skills, planning advance risk communication, and providing tools for monitoring stakeholder concerns as well as responding to communication efforts.