Jamaica formulates Quarantine Policy to address Bird Flu

KINGSTON – Jamaica has formulated a quarantine policy to address cases of Avian Influenza or Bird Flu in the event that the pandemic enters the country.

This follows a meeting of the Ministries of Agriculture and Health in October 2005 where the Bird Flu was included in the Ministry of Agriculture’s Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness Plan.

The National Emergency Animal Disease Committee (NEADCOM) will coordinate the plan. NEADCOM is comprised of four Ministries, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, the Jamaica Livestock Association and major poultry enterprises.

Speaking with JIS News, Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke said that the collaboration “has led to a second meeting where policies were formulated which are concerned with how Jamaica will deal with quarantine. We have put in place what measures we would take, just in case Bird Flu does arrive.”

Giving more details, Veterinarian with the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Susan Miguel, told JIS News that if the new strain of Bird Flu was suspected, “quarantine would immediately be enforced on the particular area by health personnel, police and soldiers. Tests will be carried out on the birds there, both wild and domesticated.” She explained that if Bird Flu was confirmed, then a 10-mile radius would also fall under quarantine.

One of the measures the Ministry of Agriculture would take is the slaughter and disposal of infected birds. Dead birds would be burned and buried in deep pits. “All ducks, turkeys and pet birds such as parakeets within the ten mile radius will also be destroyed,” Dr. Miguel assured.

While there is no evidence of Bird Flu in the island, the Agriculture Minister said that the Ministry has embarked on a prevention campaign, which involved the certification of imported meat.

Certification depends on the disease status of the exporting country. If the status of that country is healthy today but has any animal disease outbreaks tomorrow, Jamaica immediately bans shipment from that country.

Dr. Miguel explained that the certifying process involved “live fowls, animals, eggs, meat, poultry products and poultry by-products, (and) the veterinarian in the foreign country tests and certifies the product and it must be USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) approved before it can be brought here.”

The Veterinarian pointed out that most outbreaks occurred in nations such as China, where owners do not cage their birds, and live closely with them. They also conduct kills at open-air markets.

She further informed that Jamaica did not import any poultry or poultry -products from China or any East Asian country. These products are imported from the United States and on entering the island; they are tested by the Veterinary Services Division and the Public Health Department. If anything is amiss, the inspector abroad is held accountable in court. The tests are conducted at the wharves and seaports and random checks are also conducted in supermarkets. She reminded, “Only chicken parts are imported. Whole chicken is not imported.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Miguel informed that the Coast Guard would be conducting regular patrols to prevent the smuggling of birds and animals into Jamaica through the waterways, lagoons and swamps. The JDF Air Wing is expected to assist the process on the receipt of new helicopters.

While smuggled wild birds are negligible, there is a problem with captains of ships and yachts, who possess wild birds, which they take inland to sell or give as gifts.

Dr. Miguel further urged travelers to Jamaica “not to smuggle in chicken nuggets or chicken ham as the Bird Flu virus lives in frozen meat. Passengers, who wish to take a holiday turkey into Jamaica, must have a permit, which they must show to Customs. The turkey package must state where the turkey is from and it must be USDA approved.”

The Customs Department has a key role to play in ensuring that smuggling does not take place. Public Relations Manager of the Customs Department, Naomi Goulbourne Rodney, told JIS News that, “the rule is that any live animal, pet and meat with or without a permit, is stopped at the borders being the ports, airport, seaport and 10 nautical miles surrounding Jamaica.”

The Agricultural Division is then called in for inspection and if no permit accompanies the product it will be seized and destroyed or shipped back to its origin at the expense of the owner.

Mrs. Goulbourne Rodney noted that pets on board boats and cruise ships are also refused entry into Jamaica by the Customs Officer. Owners are warned not to take the animals ashore, as this is in breach of the law. Animals accompanied by a permit are quarantined by the Agricultural Division and also tested.

Dr. Miguel said that, “any bird or animal without a health permit and not accompanied by its owner is immediately destroyed. As a general rule, we do not accept live birds into Jamaica, unless it is in a cage, must be bred for a long time by its owner, away from wild birds and confined to its home space. Even then, we check up on the bird.”

Another major concern is migratory birds, which are primary carriers of the new strain and as a result, the Ministry of Agriculture is vigilant for any sign of the disease. Minister Clarke said, “We are working with the broiler companies to deal with surveillance. We are also working on how much we can strengthen the process with more personnel.”

One group that would be strengthened is the game wardens. Currently, Jamaica has 219 game wardens, and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) will appoint another 82 this month.

It is hoped that in the near future, the Veterinary Services Division’s complement of nine veterinarians will also be increased. The veterinarians are currently working closely with the maritime patrolling staff.

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