Barbados now has three state-of-the-art Atlantis Mobile Laboratories (AML) operating on the island.??

The project was launched last Wednesday evening, and was described by Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, as a fitting addition to the island’s efforts at utilising research to better respond to environmental and public health issues.

The labs are currently up and running at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), Husbands, St. James.

They form part of the Caribbean EcoHealth Programme (CEHP) and will be operating in Barbados for the next six months.

?? "This research fits well within the recent calls for the expansion of research in all sectors of society, as a means of understanding the fundamental causes of many issues confronting our society today. The various health and environmental challenges can only be effectively and efficiently controlled through a thorough understanding of the critical factors that modulated such complex and complicated issues," she said.

Senator Sandiford-Garner pointed out that Barbados would now join St Lucia, Grenada, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in completing such a programme.

"The first phase of the laboratory?? study is currently being undertaken and involves the testing of a wider range of foodborne pathogens, in addition to salmonellae, campylobacter and shigellae in an effort to ascertain the prevalence of other foodborne diseases," she explained.

Other pathogenic organisms currently being tested include E coli 0157H7, Rotavirus, Noravirus, Shigella and Staphlococcus Aureus.?? The next phase of the project is expected to be completed during the second quarter of 2011, and the findings of the study are expected to play a significant role in strengthening the food safety control strategies within the Ministry of Health.

While in Barbados, the CEHP and AML, in conjunction with the University of the West Indies and CIMH, will be conducting activities on the monitoring of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP’s) in humans, levels of pesticides in the marine environment, and heavy metal in humans and the environment. ??POPs have the potential to injure humans and other organisms, even at the very low concentrations which are sometimes found in the environment, wildlife and in humans.

They are highly toxic, and exposure can take place through one’s diet, environmental exposure or accidents.?? From a human health perspective, exposure to POPs can cause several negative health effects; including, death, cancers, hypersensitivity, developmental changes, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems; and disruption of the endocrine, reproductive and immune systems.??

Dr. Eric Dewailly of Laval University explained that the CEHP had been conducting research in the Arctic region for 20 years and was now turning its attention to the Caribbean over the last three to four years. He expressed the hope that the data gained would be useful to policy makers.??

"If we are not producing research that is useful for policy makers and public health authorities, then we are wasting our time.?? So, instead of arriving in a helicopter and taking some samples and going back to a university, then analysing them, and most of the time not coming back to the community, the idea of having a mobile laboratory was developed," he explained.

Also speaking at the launch was Professor in Preventative Medicine at St. George’s University, Grenada and lecturer in public health, Dr. Martin Forde.?? He explained that this project was different from many others, as it not only focused on research.??

"I was pleasantly surprised that this is a very unique project, in that research is not the only thing that we are doing here.?? When this lab came down to initially Grenada in 2008, the response was… what’s in it for Grenada??? And, I realised that I did not emphasise that in addition to research, we are building laboratory capacity in terms of equipment within the region, and more importantly is training," Dr. Forde stated.??

As part of the programme, 22 students from Barbados and across the region are also taking part in a course in Ocean and Human Health.????

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