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Ministry of Agriculture


Belmopan - 31 August, 2006
The First National Avian Influenza Seminar/Simulation concludes today in San Ignacio.

The first day of events was held at the San Ignacio Hotel, the second day at the Cahal Pech Village and the third day, which includes practical field demonstrations of control measures is being held in Spanish Lookout, Cayo District.

The objective of the three-day seminar/simulation is to train stakeholders on their roles and responsibilities in the event of an outbreak of Avian Influenza in Belize. Veterinary paraprofessionals are particularly being targeted in this training so as to strengthen our surveillance system and emergency response mechanism.

Participants at this event include representatives from the public sector and Industry.

The detection of Avian Influenza, depending on which virus of the 144 possible viruses, can trigger different responses. The detection in Belize of the strain of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1, currently in circulation in Asia and causing deaths in humans, would trigger a national emergency response under NEMO.

Thus, different stakeholders may be involved in the response to a particular type of Avian Influenza thus it is essential to train all stakeholders on their roles and responsibilities. Hence, other seminars/simulations on Avian Influenza will be held.

Avian Influenza (AI) has presented a crisis unprecedented in scope, geographical distribution and severity. Avian Influenza has had an enormous economic and social impact in affected countries and the risk of this animal disease situation evolving into a global human influenza pandemic is of great public concern.

As of the 23rd August 2006 there have been 241 human cases with 141 deaths in 10 countries. The increasing number of countries reporting Avian Influenza and the resurgence of Avian Influenza in countries that had it controlled tells us that there is a continuing risk of avian influenza spreading. No poultry-keeping country, including Belize, can afford to ignore Avian Influenza.

Thus, the importance of this seminar/simulation on Avian Influenza cannot be overstated. Today, Avian Influenza and particularly avian influenza surveillance and preparedness is a top priority in BAHA.

BAHA has recognised the seriousness of this situation and has focused its respective leadership and co-ordination efforts in the strengthening of the animal health department and the preparation of the Emergency Preparedness Plan for highly pathogenic avian influenza.

It is in our best interest as a country to invest in the containment of avian influenza. The common objective is to protect human health by controlling the disease at source. This means addressing the transmission of the virus where the disease occurs, in poultry, specifically free range chickens and water fowl. Stopping the disease at source is a strategy that fully recognises the importance of sound animal health infrastructures in dealing with epidemic diseases and promoting food security.

A sound animal health infrastructure is also the prerequisite for all efforts to reposition or even restructure the poultry sector as such repositioning relies on effective and efficient animal health management capabilities.

Thus at the national level we need:

• To continue to strengthen the animal health department to manage national surveillance systems better, to improve early detection and response, define strategies, and monitor their implementation.

• To implement disease prevention and control programmes, including stamping out, biosecurity and vaccination, as appropriate.

• To develop better tools (diagnostic methods), analyse their effectiveness and costs, under local conditions.

BAHA will continue to coordinate efforts with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Natural Resources, NEMO and the Belize Poultry Association. We will continue to work closely with our regional and international organisations such as OIRSA, USDA, FAO, CARICOM and the OIE.