On-going Veterinary Relief Initiatives in the Caribbean

A great number of initiatives are ongoing in the region to provide emergency relief to animals and their owners in countries most heavily impacted by the recent hurricanes. Those initiatives, in coordination with local governments and stakeholders, are varied and involve professionals and stakeholders from the public and the private sector as well as associations, NGOs etc. throughout the region and internationally. In this article, we provide an overview of initiatives that involves CaribVET, directly or indirectly. Others are also reported (“More information”)

Hurricanes IRMA and MARIA have resulted in declaration of emergencies and states of disaster in several Caribbean countries (Dominica, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin and Sint Maarten, Virgin Islands, Cuba…). Recovery is extremely challenging: many people have no shelter, water or food; animal housing infrastructures are badly damaged; islands are without or with limited power; ports and airports are closed or with very limited traffic; the roads and infrastructure are severely damaged; and there is still limited to no communication (cell phone, internet) in many parts...

At present the focus is clearly mostly on human health and welfare. But animal health and welfare are closely related matters of paramount importance during the recovery phase to safeguard food safety and food security. Veterinary professionals from the public and the private sectors as well as various associations play a major role to maintain animal health status in the countries. Key actions currently relate to supply of animal feed and veterinary supplies and the organization of safe movements of pets.

Supply of feed for the animals and veterinary materials

To Saint Martin/Sint Marten following IRMA

The local Ministry of Agriculture of Guadeloupe (Direction de l'Agriculture, de l'Alimentation et de la Foret) and the Ministry of Curacao were coordinating actions, with local NGOs as well, to support the local governments of Saint Martin (French Side) and of Sint Maarten (Dutch Side) with the provision of animal feed and hay for livestock and companion animals. For instance, DAAF Guadeloupe shipped 6.5 T of animal feed to Saint Martin.

Veterinary associations, such as the private veterinarians of Martinique and the Association of Private Veterinarians in Guadeloupe (AVPLG), in collaboration with the Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA) and other groups (French Medical Veterinary Board, Planet Caraïbes, le Domaine Canin...), and with the logistical support of the Regional Public Health Agency (ARS) Guadeloupe and in coordination with the private veterinarians of Hope Estate and of Concordia among others local actors managed to ship a 2.5 T container of cages, pet feed, pet dishes, RFID chips (radio-frequency identification implants), veterinary medications such as vaccines, antibiotics, vitamins, disinfectants, bandages, syringes, needles and 4 generators (19, 12, and 6 kW). The materials shipped were intended for the veterinary services in SXM, the private veterinarians and local veterinary associations. It allowed free distribution of feed and cages for owners willing to leave SXM with their pets.

In link with the CaribVET Focal Point in the Cayman Islands, the US and the Canadian Equestrian Federation and the Cayman Islands Equestrian Federation (CIEF) worked to assist horses in the region affected by hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria - in coordination with the governments in the region. The help is in the form of sending feed to the affected islands and for this feed to be distributed either by the government or NGOs. CaribVET Members were requested to send contact persons within their country to coordinate the receiving, customs clearing and distribution of feed relief supplies for horses and livestock. More information: CIEF press release.

To Dominica following MARIA

A number of initiatives are actively being organized for veterinary relief in Dominica as communication with the Chief Veterinary Officer (CaribVET Focal Point in Dominica) is possible. The CVO is coordinating the assessment of the needs in very precarious conditions, while re-establishing a sanitary network on the island. A number of initiatives are being organized: food for pets and for poultry, veterinary supplies to treat injured animals or perform emergency surgery and provision of tarps as well to protect animal housings. Needs are collected through the CaribVET Steering Committee’s WhatsApp group and help is being organized by various members in several countries.

The supporting organizationsare the FAO, Caribbean Broilers Company (Poultry Company in Jamaica), private veterinarians from Martinique and Guadeloupe, Schools of Veterinary Medicine from Saint Georges’ University (Grenada) and from University of the West Indies (UWI, Trinidad and Tobago) and CIRAD. Contacts are being facilitated between other international groups like World Animal Protection and “Four Paws”, an Animal welfare group and the CVOs where communications is limited or difficult.

Organize safe movements of pets despite the emergency situation.

Another major challenge occurring with these humanitarian crises is the preservation of animal health status in the countries and the region. Indeed, a number of “refugees” will travel with their pets, posing risks of pathogen dissemination depending on where the pets originate from and how well protected they are against diseases/infestations. As some countries in the region do not have quarantine facilities, some (like Barbados) chose to make arrangements with some larger veterinary clinics to house the animals for the quarantine period, which will depend on what is found vis a vis health certificate and other measures taken; others (like the Cayman Islands) have been setting a temporary quarantine facility for the processing of relocating pets, and requested documentation regarding pet quarantine facilities from CaribVET member countries especially those who have operational dog and cat facilities. According to trade relationship between islands and the history of collaboration on various animal programmes as well as on the health status, relocation of pets with their owners was easily organized bilaterally by the veterinary services (US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands). In general, all organized inspections of animals and documents (such as international veterinary certificate), registration and record of the arrival.

A major issue deals with people needing immediate evacuation from islands where Rabies is present, for example, Puerto Rico, and the need to guarantee that pets will arrive with a health certificate and proof of current rabies vaccination. In order to address this situation USDA-APHIS has established an operation center in Puerto Rico to handle pet-related issues and have deployed one APHIS veterinarian to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other APHIS volunteers to work with the military and other aid agencies as they arrive on the island.

The veterinary services from the various countries and territories exchanged protocols and policies regarding import and export of companion animals.

The Cayman Islands recently indicated that the quarantine facilities are functional and the first set of animals entered on 24th September. They have received tremendous support from various entities in terms of donation for the free use of the facility, pet supplies and veterinary/para veterinary volunteer services. And the involvement of Department of Agriculture staff was exceptional with the set up and operation of the temporary quarantine facility. They received a total of 9 dogs and 8 cats, a majority of which (15) came directly from the BVI and from Anguilla. The other 2 transited through Puerto Rico and then USA mainland. In terms of risk status categories  a majority of the animal were in category 3 risk status and a few were in category 4 and 6.

Protection of wildlife and endangered species

St-Martin / St Maarten (SXM) zoo has been destroyed completely and Curaçao Department of Veterinary Affairs has replied to the outcry of the board of the SXM Zoo to assess the health status of the endangered species and facilitate the permanent evacuation of these animals to Curaçao. The assessment was executed within 4 days after the request by means of paying a quick visit to the devastated island with the cooperation of the Dutch Air Force. After the evaluation of the findings and the health risks we have given a green light for the evacuation of 9 cotton top tamarins and 12 macaws to be placed in quarantine at the zoo after arrival. The Curaçao Zoo is in the process of arranging the transportation of these animals with a team consisting of one veterinarian, one animal health assistant, an animal handler and a reporter to document the exercise. The remaining animals of the SXM zoo were adopted by the SXM children's farm or fostered.

In Guadeloupe, the Zoo situated in a forest area has been severely damaged mainly its environment however most of the infrastructure was preserved. All animals were in security in the anticyclonic shelters. Major work of clearing, reconditioning and securing the access to the zoo were made possible with the intervention of military formations for civil security of Guadeloupe. No animal was injured nor needed evacuation. The manatee recently introduced in Guadeloupe was kept safe in a secured treatment pool. The Aquarium of Guadeloupe was not damaged despite being located on the seaside. The Florida Key deer population, an endemic species of the Florida keys, critically endangered species on the IUCN red list, and where affected last year by a new world screwworm outbreak  is fragilized again by Irma. The hurricane damaged the fence surrounding the National Key Deer Refuge in Big pine Key. Several individuals were found in distress after Irma and dehydrated as storm surge filled drinking holes with salty water. An assessment of the impact of the hurricane on the population is ongoing (see more information). A preliminary report is available here

Initiatives from the Veterinary Students in the region

In Trinidad and Tobago (Faculty of Medical Sciences of the University of the West Indies), Grenada (School of Veterinary Medicine, St Georges University) and in Saint Kitts and Nevis (Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine), the students mobilized and contributed with hosting collection / donation drives for countries affected by the two hurricanes. Faculty staff and students all joined together to assist. Some assistance with veterinary care is organized on a case by case and according. And on Oct 6th, the Puerto Rican students and faculty of RUSVM are holding a fund-raising dinner this evening to help support rebuilding Puerto Rico.

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Acknowledgement to the CaribVET ans special thanks to the Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs) and colleagues from the veterinary Services in Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, CIEF, FAO, USDA-APHIS-IS, Schools of Veterinary medicines of Ross University, St. Georges University and University of the West Indies, CIRAD Guadeloupe and private veterinarians from Martinique and Guadeloupe for sharing their information.

Published: 02/10/2017

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