Letter: MRCU’s Wheeler responds

MRCU and Oxitec workers release genetically modified mosquitoes in West Bay Tuesday morning. - Photo: Charles Duncan

I have remained silent on the comments and posts being made on a number of news outlets and social media relating to internal email communications at MRCU. Some of the posts however have made unjust accusations and I feel I must respond. I would like to clarify the context of some of the email exchanges and specifically respond to what I consider to be unfair accusations against Mrs. Nancy Barnard.

The emails concerned MRCU’s collaborative work with Oxitec and discussions on the analysis of data collected. Over the course of the collaborative work I did raise a number of concerns about operational issues, interpretation of the results and value for money. As a person employed by the Cayman Islands Government I feel it was my duty to raise such concerns as I am paid to work for the best interests of the people of the Cayman Islands.

After the departure of Dr. Petrie in August 2017 Ms. Barnard was placed as Acting Director of MRCU and had to quickly familiarize herself with its operations and internal workings. As the Assistant Director I had knowledge of aspects of the Oxitec project that Mrs. Barnard did not. I therefore do not consider it to be unusual to have communicated this knowledge to Mrs. Barnard. In every email exchange or conversation I had with Nancy I found her to be receptive to my concerns and able to fairly evaluate the information I gave to her and respond appropriately. If she agreed with my comments she would act and if she disagreed we would work together until we were both in agreement. In the short time Nancy was at MRCU she made considerable and positive changes for the better at MRCU.

When Nancy first came to MRCU the department was very close to signing a $8 million contract with Oxitec for an islandwide roll-out of the Oxitec technique. I was not in favor of this as I considered that the technique had not yet proven its efficiency and that more data needed to be collected before investing heavily in it. Mrs. Barnard was very receptive to my concerns and we worked very well together to negotiate a new contract with Oxitec that was more suitable to the needs of the Cayman Islands. At NO POINT during my time working with Mrs. Barnard did she propose withholding information or make any attempt to deceive the public.

With regard to Oxitec itself, I do have reservations about its effectiveness but I do believe it is worth further evaluation as (should it be proven to be effective) it would be of great benefit to public health in the Cayman Islands and the region as a whole. Any new contract however should be made on the terms that are most beneficial to the Cayman islands and provide us with the data that we require to reach a confident decision on its effectiveness in terms of mosquito reduction and cost-effectiveness.

Dr. Alan Wheeler
Assistant Director
Cayman Islands Mosquito Research & Control Unit

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