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JIS News

Senior Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands recently tested the nation’s ability to respond to animal disease outbreak in the island, particularly, the Avian Influenza (Bird Flu). The simulation exercise took place in Old Harbour, St. Catherine is the first of its kind to be staged in the island.
Dr. Headley Edwards, Director of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands told JIS News that the mock exercise was intended to evaluate the level of the country’s preparedness in the event of an actual outbreak of Bird Flu.
“While there is no Avian Influenza outbreak in Jamaica at this time, it is important for us to be able to respond efficiently to contain and eliminate any possible outbreaks and Jamaica has to take a proactive approach to the matter of disease prevention,” he said, while adding that the simulation exercise had a regional perspective.
He noted that participants from another 11 CARICOM (Caribbean Community) nations including Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Dominica, Cayman Islands, and Suriname, had been invited.
“In looking at our national response we have taken into consideration, that there are a number of activities which must take place, some of which have already been done,” Dr. Edwards said.
Outlining the mock scenario where a small poultry farmer found his birds dying and sought the assistance of the Veterinary Services Division, he pointed out that the steps in the response process involved a number of requirements.
“The farmer would have informed the Veterinary Services Division, and the laboratory personnel would have gone on to the farm to investigate the disease.
We would carry out the sample, test rapidly at this stage and process that sample for verification, which would have been confirmed at an international reference laboratory. After receiving the information, on the type of disease, the symptoms of which would reflect the Avian Influenza, the Ministry of Agriculture through the Disaster Preparedness Disease plan would now institute a quarantine and investigate further,” he said.
Dr. Edwards said that the response mechanism required a National Emergency Animal Disease Committee (NEADCOM) headed by the Ministry of Agriculture, involving some 12 agencies. He also noted that a task force had to be set up under the jurisdiction of the Director of Veterinary Services.
“Once the Emergency Committee meets, then you would now instruct the task force to implement the Government’s programme. That would be what we are seeing here today, which is the exercise of investigation, reporting, and trying to determine what we would do to control the disease,” Dr. Edwards said.
Other activities he pointed out including setting up road blocks within the quarantine area, the establishment of a headquarters outside of the quarantine area, setting up checkpoints manned by the military and the police, and where necessary the intervention of the other agencies such as officials and representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
“So our people are out in the field carrying out their investigation as to how many birds are affected, where they are and we also have an appraisal team, which will be saying how much damage has been done in terms of their assets, whether or not we have to destroy the birds and the possibility of compensation,” he explained.
Another critical component of the process is the control and eradication programme, which involves disinfection and sanitization.
“The control and eradication programme that is implemented in any disease depends on the situation, and the disease that you are involved in, so a number of things are taken into consideration, the environment, the method of disposal, the effect on the nutrition of the population etc and to also take into consideration international guidelines for disposal etc. Presently our response can also include vaccination,” he said.
The simulation exercise was carried out by the Veterinary Services Division in the Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
According to Dr. Edwards, the exercise was supported by these international organizations in an effort to help countries that are not yet affected.
“There is no evidence of the disease in the Caribbean and the Latin American region at this stage so the aim is to help to put in place preventative measures and carry out surveillance to determine whether there is any evidence of the disease, so we had great support from these agencies in conjunction with the local poultry industry and the Caribbean Poultry Association,” Dr. Edwards informed.
He further outlined that, “in addition Jamaica is a member of the World Organization for Animal Health and we have reporting responsibilities and obligations as to the disease status of each country and also one of the operating activities of the Vet Services is that these simulation exercises should be conducted at least once every two years”.
Participants included government employed and private veterinarians, animal health technicians, public health officials, the police, the military, representatives from the ODPEM, NEPA, and the Jamaica Fire Brigade, and Ambulance Services.
This is the first simulation exercise being held for Avian influenza.
Dr. Edwards noted that simulation exercises are usually done for the animal disease, which is most threatening at the time.
“We have already had exercises for ‘foot and mouth’ disease, and classical swine fever in pigs,” he disclosed.
Meanwhile, Dr. Cedric Lazarus, Regional Project Coordinator at the FAO told JIS News some of the measures, which have already been taken by the authorities to help prevent a Bird Flu outbreak.
“Some bio-security measures are in place especially in terms of our commercial poultry farmers and producers such as Jamaica Broilers and Caribbean Broilers to prevent Avian Influenza from getting into flocks.
Measures include construction of modern tunnel ventilated poultry houses into which wild birds cannot enter and these wild birds are potential sources of the Influenza virus,” Dr. Lazarus said.
He pointed that these measures have been emphasized over the last five years. In addition commercial producers no longer contract farmers who have not upgraded to these modern and computerized poultry houses.
Other measures he said include keeping visitors off farm areas; enforcement of the use of protective gear by workers on a farm; regular daily health checks by owners and field officers; and reports of any kind of disease outbreaks in a flock.
He also outlined some of the symptoms of the disease, pointing out that usually there are no warning signs.”In most instances, the birds die suddenly without any previous sign of disease. In some instances, they are depressed, lethargic, unwilling to move, they have swollen bluish, wattles, combs and heads and there might be bloodspots on the legs and feet. There may or may not be diarrhea but for the most part symptoms are not very frequent,” he said.
Dr. Lazarus noted that for diagnosis of the disease, samples of the birds’ blood, tissue, faeces, and organs as well as other samples need to be taken, which must be sent to a laboratory for determination and/or confirmation of Avian Influenza. In addition a post mortem should be done.