As avian influenza (bird flu) continues its rapid spread across the world, government and health officials as well as execu-tives of the poultry industry, gathered in Kingston yesterday to discuss the steps Jamaica needs to take to prevent an outbreak of the virus.
Bird flu has been spreading rapidly across the globe since 2003 and has been linked to the deaths of at least 115 persons world-wide. Since January, 30 countries on three continents have reported outbreaks of bird flu. Thirty-nine persons have already died this year from bird flu, compared to 41 in all of 2005, reports the Jamaica Gleaner.
Dr. Ernest Pate, a repre-sentative of the Pan-American Health Organisa-tion, noted that Jamaica’s best hope is to be well prepared for an outbreak of the virus. This, he said, would be the best way to keep the virus contained.
In his presentation at yesterday’s seminar held at the Terra Nova Hotel, Waterloo Road, St. Andrew, Dr. Pate said local health officials should be looking seriously at the number of hospital beds, medication and related medical material which may rapidly become needed if there was an outbreak of the virus.
He noted also, that residents need to pay close attention to ways in which they can help themselves. He suggested that buying only certified meat products and cooking them under prescribed conditions was the first step to being safe.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dunstan Campbell, representative of the Food and Agricultural Organisation said Jamaica would benefit from an FAO Caribbean project to begin this month. He said that over the next 18 months, the FAO will be spending about US$500,000 to help prepare the region for an outbreak of the virus. The main aim though, he said, was to implement measures that will help to prevent an outbreak of the virus from ever happening. The measures are to include a public education campaign and the purchase of testing instruments which can detect the virus in its earliest stages.
For his part, Christopher Levy, vice president of Jamaica Broilers, said Jamaicans should be careful not to panic even as they take precautions. He reiterated that poultry consumption in Jamaica is completely safe and sought to reassure consumers that his company and others in the industry are undertaking stringent measures to ensure that bird flu never reaches Jamaica.