Feature: Environmental Health Department Fights Local Rodent Population

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The Environmental Department of the Ministry of Health is spearheading an integrated rodent control programme to combat an increase in the rodent population in this country.?? Introduced in 2007, the programme plays a major role in reducing mortality and morbidity of the diseases spread by rats and mice, in particular, leptospirosis, salmonellosis, and the hanta virus.

The Ministry of Health has identified six strategic areas throughout the country for rodent control attention. They include Bridgetown and its environs, recreational areas such as beaches and parks; agricultural areas including animal and crop rearing premises, residential and commercial areas, long-term health care institution, educational facilities and other government buildings.

Major factors sustaining the rodent population are the ready availability of foodstuff and the rodent’s attraction to available foods often fostered by indiscriminate dumping and the presence of unsatisfactory properties including vacant lots, derelict buildings and vehicles.

Clear evidence of this is demonstrated in Bridgetown, where there is a sustainable supply of food in the Fairchild Street Market, Independence Square, Suttle Street, Heroes Square and Cavan’s Lane. The situation is further compounded by some persons in and around the city who litter indiscriminately.??

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In addition to these negative practices persons dispose of food scraps carelessly, in such recreational areas as picnic spots and beaches, despite the availability of refuse containers provided by the relevant authorities.?? There have been some cases at educational facilities where improper storage of garbage, coupled with the casual disposal of refuse has contributed to increase in the rodent population.?? In addition, the farming community continues to grapple with the persistence of rats and this often leads to economic loss as a result of crop damage, not to mention the potentially high risk of contracting leptospirosis.

Major components of the National Rodent Control Programme involve chemical control, education, capacity building, source reduction, application of geographic information systems, regulatory enforcement and health promotion.

With respect to the chemical aspect of the programme, Chief Environmental Health Officer, Tyrone Applewaite, commended the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. and the National Conservation Commission (NCC) for financing the construction of 1,000 rodent bait stations at a cost $25,000. To date, these units continue to play a significant role in the control of the rodent population as a result of their deployment in Bridgetown, Oistins, Browne’s Beach, Enterprise Beach, Six Men’s, Queen’s Park, Accra Beach, educational facilities, ports of entry and other public, private, and residential premises. He further added that the department was in the process of manufacturing rodent’s stations for sale to the public in the near future.

Furthermore, in an effort to strengthen the vector control capability and capacity within institutions, the Vector Control Unit of the Environmental Health Department continues to train personnel attached to both the private and public sectors, in critical areas. To date, over 9,000 persons have been trained from such agencies as the Ministry of Education, the School Meals Department, Transport Board, Barbados Light and Power Co. Ltd., LIME, and the NCC, among others. The training has significantly reduced rodent activity in several areas, especially primary and secondary schools across the country. ??

The Chief Environmental Health Officer noted that with the recent introduction of a Geographic Information System, the department was in the process of mapping and tracking rodent control complaints, any cases of leptospirosis, distributing rodent bait, and examining other environmental factors that are critical to the control of rodents. The system is expected to facilitate the efficient and effective deployment of resources, through the use of timely interventions.

Mr. Applewaite indicated that despite the previously mentioned programmes, the importance of good sanitation practices by members of the public remained paramount. These included the proper collection and disposal of garbage, equipment and furniture, control of overgrown vegetation on vacant lots, regular inspections of premises for evidence of rodents and the control of illegal dumping.

Members of the public are reminded that under the Health Service Act and associated regulations, persistent littering is an offence.?? The official stated that dumping also occurs in isolated areas across the country and this has the potential to further threaten the environment with contamination of the water supply and the marine ecosystem.

In light of this, the Chief Environmental Health Officer pointed out that the proposed establishment of an Enforcement Unit within the Environmental Health Department in the near future would provide the appropriate mechanism and framework to ensure that persons contravening the Health Services Act and Regulations are prosecuted in the most effective and efficient manner.

alyson.holder@barbados.gov.bb

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