Advertisement
JIS News

Minister of State for Agriculture and Lands, Errol Ennis, has said that Caribbean countries must work together to develop a comprehensive communication strategy to tackle any possible outbreak of avian influenza (bird flu).
The State Minister, who was addressing the opening of a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO)-sponsored workshop on ‘Outbreak and crisis communication for Caribbean countries’ today (Jan. 11) at the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, said that while there was no incidence of the virus in the region, any outbreak would have devastating social and economic consequences.
He noted that since 2004, outbreaks of the disease have occurred in some 52 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe and in February 2006, there were reports of the virus in 13 more countries, including Nigeria, Greece, Germany, Egypt, India and France. “An estimated 200 million birds worldwide have died as well as 150 human beings as a result of the avian influenza,” the State Minister informed.
It was against this background, he said, that WHO had urged countries to strengthen their surveillance, laboratory diagnostic services, and emergency preparedness procedures, as well as their central communication network.
Focusing on efforts to prevent and control any outbreak of the virus in Jamaica, Mr. Ennis informed that Cabinet, last year, approved some $13.5 million to assist in implementing a surveillance and prevention plan.
In addition, the Ministry has ceased to issue permits for the importation of pet birds, ducks, geese, swans and other aquatic birds, game birds, poultry, and hatching eggs or egg products from any country affected by the virus.
“The Veterinary Services Division has been working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the public health and customs departments to ensure compliance with import permits and veterinary certification requirements for the importation of these products in any country,” Mr. Ennis pointed out.
He added that field officers from the Division have been working with public health inspectors, extension officers from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and poultry producers, to improve vigilance in monitoring poultry production and processing facilities.
The Veterinary Division has also purchased diagnostic materials and emergency field equipment including 26 idexx test kits, which are capable of analyzing at least 12,480 samples. “The Division has also purchased 30 synbiotic flu detection test kits capable of performing at least 600 tests. As with the idexx test kits, samples may be pooled thus increasing the capacity up to five times the amount. Preliminary test results can be made available within 20 to 30 minutes,” Mr. Ennis informed.
He called on the media to work with the relevant ministries to increase awareness of the disease.
Meanwhile, PAHO/WHO Representative in Jamaica, Earnest Pate, said that with the disease spreading worldwide, the two-day workshop was very timely.
He informed that to date, there were 263 confirmed human cases of the avian influenza worldwide, with 157 deaths. “This represents a 60 per cent mortality rate. I am not aware of any disease with such a high mortality rate. This is a highly contagious disease that respects no national borders. In fact, the disease has spread from Asia to the Middle East, Africa on to Europe and we are running the risk of this spreading to the Americas and as a consequence to the Caribbean,” stated.
He noted that WHO/PAHO have carried out extensive training regionally to establish various ways of predicting and modeling what would happen if there was an outbreak of the disease.
“There is a software called flu search, which can take a country’s data and predict what would happen. When we used this model for a fairly mild avian pandemic it showed that in an eight-week period, we would need to have space for greater than 7,000 hospital admissions and there is a possibility of over 1,000 deaths.so this is telling us that we need to be prepared . and have plans in place to handle these difficulties,” he stated.
The specific objectives of the workshop are: to review the extent of communication preparedness for, and identify challenges and constraints in coping with a possible avian influenza pandemic; provide guidance in preparing and or upgrading action plans; develop and strengthen skills in preparing and delivering messages guided by basic communication theories and global practices; and establish clear, intra and inter-country linkages between existing communication teams.