Veterinary officials from Barbados and the Caribbean, as well as members of the poultry sector, are on high alert, and have been working tirelessly to scale up their preparedness planning to prevent the introduction and spread of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

The Caribbean Animal Health Network, known as CaribVET, and the Caribbean Poultry Association (CPA), convened a three-day Avian Influenza Regional Preparedness Meeting in Barbados recently to review and further develop a regional strategic plan to safeguard food security and the livelihoods of communities across the region.

Co-funded by the 10th European Development Fund Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Measures Project, the meeting gathered representatives from the public and private sectors, regional and international organisations involved with agriculture, research institutes, researchers and other technical experts.

Senior Veterinary Officer of Barbados??? Ministry of Agriculture, and Chair of the CaribVET Working Group, Dr. Mark Trotman, stated that over the past six months, this new virus, known as HPAI H5N2, has been wreaking havoc in North America. To date, more than 50 million birds have either died or have been destroyed, costing the industry and governments billions of dollars.

Dr. Trotman pointed out that more than 90 per cent of the hatching eggs and day-old chicks required in the region for the production of table eggs and broiler meat were sourced from the USA.

He added: ???The virus is highly contagious and extremely deadly to chickens and turkeys; however, to date, there is no evidence that it affects people. Every effort is being made to make sure that farmers and producers are well-equipped to protect their flocks, should the virus enter the Caribbean region.???

The agricultural official revealed that Chief Veterinary Officers from the Caribbean met with their counterparts at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture in Baltimore, Maryland, United States (US), from June 22 to 26, to examine the measures that were being taken to safeguard the supply of hatching eggs and day-old chicks to the region.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Poultry Association (CPA), Dr. Desmond Ali, who also attended the meeting, noted that organisations throughout the region were aware of the problem in the US, and were working towards strengthening their preparedness plans.

???CaribVET and the CPA have been engaging in increasingly close multi-disciplinary collaboration with its partners and stakeholders from the region to develop a comprehensive preparedness and response strategy. This collaborative approach has been endorsed by CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development.

???National emergency preparedness plans had already been developed by the veterinary services in all of the countries and territories of the region with strong collaboration from the poultry industry, as well as international and regional organisations. These plans are now being reviewed and updated in light of this new outbreak,??? Dr. Ali added.

Critical outcomes of the regional meeting include a concise checklist of measures that farmers and producers can use for the biosecurity of their flocks; guidelines for collaboration and strengthening veterinary laboratories for early diagnosis of the virus; sharing information through the Caribbean Veterinary Information System; and the update of national and regional simulation exercises.

CaribVET is a collaborative network involving veterinary services, laboratories, research institutes, regional and international organisations and private sector associations to improve animal and veterinary public health in all of the countries and territories of the Caribbean.

Author: Aisha Reid/Ministry of Agriculture

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