Disease Simulation A Valuable Learning Tool For Officials

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Last week’s Red Tide simulation, which sought to gauge Barbados and the Caribbean’s response to the introduction of a highly contagious animal disease in the region, has been hailed as a valuable learning exercise.

This is the view of Senior Veterinary Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary Services Department, Dr. Mark Trotman, who said the session, which simulated an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the region, gave his department and other key agencies an opportunity to brainstorm and offer suggestions as to how best authorities could effectively cope with such a scenario.

The exercise also focused on improving communication and coordination, resource planning, preparedness and response between the various stakeholder agencies.

Speaking following the whole day simulation, the senior veterinary official said the session gave participants a better idea of the scope and nature of the resources as well as the protocols required to effectively deal with such a situation.

"An animal disease emergency [should be treated] in the same way as any major national incident such as a fire or mass casualty, a hurricane or flood. It requires the same coordinated and multidisciplinary response. I think that was the main thing we were able to thrash out through this exercise," he pointed out.

Dr. Trotman added that animal disease outbreaks should not be taken lightly and they had the potential to wipe out the local and regional livestock industry and, in some cases, impact on human life.

He said a major challenge was that a lot of attention was paid to the impact of natural disasters and mass casualties, however, the spread of animal diseases could be just as devastating as evidenced by the Avian Influenza (H5N1) epidemic in Asia, more popularly referred to as the Bird Flu, and the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in the United Kingdom.

"That is understandable as national disasters are so highly visible and the effects can be highly catastrophic. I think what we tend not to realise is that an outbreak of a major animal disease can be just as catastrophic but not quite as high profile because they may not be massive loss of life or infrastructure but what is destroyed is the economy of the country…

"We need to recognise it’s not only about losing an animal here and there, but we could actually destroy the agricultural basis of the economy of this country if we don’t really pay attention to effectively responding to any threats of animal disease," Dr. Trotman maintained.

The simulation was held simultaneously in nine other countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with participants linked together virtually through the use of the Internet.??

Further information on the exercise may be obtained by visiting the websites http://www.caribvet.net/ and http://www.iica.int/.

andre.skeete@barbados.gov.bb

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