PARAMARIBO, SURINAME - Several regional entities at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture are discussing ways to work together to strengthen the Caribbean’s disease surveillance systems especially those related to animal and human contact at a time when the region battles Chikungunya and the threat of Ebola.

‘We are not monitoring the spread of Chik V and Ebola. That would be done more by the Ministries of Health but these diseases show how quickly diseases can spread.  Chik V started in one island and now its sweeping through the region. So we need to be prepared and have the surveillance techniques ready for any emerging diseases,’ said Dr Patricia Bedfford, Veterinary Health Specialist and Chair of the Caribbean Veterinary (CARIBVET) Communication Working group.

According to Bedfford, the Caribbean had challenges with the detection of diseases, fortifying bordersagainst disease incursion and establishing adequate disease surveillance systems.  Beddford was presenting at a seminar on Agricultural Health and Food Safety at CWA – the premiere Caribbean annual event in the region bringing together hundreds of policymakers, ministers of agriculture, farmers, youth and other key players to decide on priority actions for the region. It is partly sponsored by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

Having identified these challenges, Bedfford said her organisation, CARIBVET, was one of several working to reinforce laboratory capacities in its 33 member countries.

‘We are working to increase disease control in the region and establish early detection disease systems,’ she said while adding that CARIBVET had been preparing the region for nearly 10 years to tackle animal disease emergence.

‘We have trained about 200 professionals from 26 countries since 2008,’ she said.

CARIBVET was one of about five organisations presenting at the seminar. Other organisations such as the Caribbean Plant Health Directors, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), also shared similar challenges.

According to information shared by the Caribbean Plant Health Directors, the absence of effective plant health and safeguarding systems will result in increases in Quarantine of Pests, Reduction in crop production, loss of local and export markets, increased cost of pest control and production,  challenges in affording inputs/pesticides, loss of Income and increase in rural poverty.

‘The development and growth of many countries depend, to a great extent, on the Agri-food sector and this is linked to the performance of the National Agricultural Health and Food Safety System,’ explained Carol Thomas, an International Agricultural Health and Food Safety Specialist from IICA.

‘The agricultural health and food safety systems in the Region have been described as being inefficient and outdated….strengthening these systems is a shared responsibility that requires the involvement and participation of both the public and the private sectors,’ she said.

Her sentiments were similarly echoed by Guyanese Minister of Agriculture, Leslie Ramsammy, who was speaking on the slightly different but related issue of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

‘We need more cohesion in our policies – starting with animal health etc,’ he said while addressing a seminar on AMR, which he described as an important public and agricultural health threat that was not getting enough attention.

‘We have not invested in agriculture enough – our animal health labs are not properly equipped anywhere in the Caribbean. We put in a little money but not enough for them to do what they need to and so they lag behind,’ he said.

He called for greater Caribbean leadership on animal and human health issues starting with AMR.

‘We have lead the world in many things. We were the first sub-region to get rid of Polio and Small Pox and we are not insignificant in our achievements. We can make AMR a priority issue so that we can again provide leadership. Guyana is ready to play our role,’ he said.

He stressed that he would be following up at the 2015 CWA to see what progress had been made in this area. The recommendations coming out of CWA will be fed into subsequent CARICOM policy meetings.

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