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Belize Agricultural Health Authority continues heightened surveillance against regional threat posed by New World screwworm

Posted: Saturday, February 24, 2024. 9:24 am CST.

Photo Credit: Breaking Belize News

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) is continuing its surveillance and control measures against the New World screwworm which recently resurfaced in Costa Rica.

While Costa Rica established an animal health emergency, countries in the region, including Belize, have stepped up their surveillance measures as the screwworm poses a regional threat to the cattle industry and other mammals.

“What we’re doing to continue to mitigate risk in Belize is first of all, we are continuing to monitor the zoo-sanitary situation of the region on a continuous basis,” BAHA’s Technical Director of Animal Health Dr Roxanna Alvarez told Breaking Belize News.

“We’re also creating and raising public awareness. We’ve sent out a couple of press releases. We’ve distributed posters and flyers to producer associations, and we have a presentation during the Belize Livestock Producers Association AGM on Saturday.”

“We’ve heightened surveillance and inspection; surveillance primarily because illegal importation and movement are high risk activities. In Costa Rica and Panama, this is what has been creating issues with control: illegal movement and importation of animals.”

“We’re also training our technical officers at BAHA and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise (MAFSE). We’re doing this in an effort to be prepared. Fortunately for us, the screwworm hasn’t been present in Belize for the last 32 years.

BAHA’s Technical Director of Animal Health Dr Roxanna Alvarez

Alvarez said that surveillance is done at entry points in the country – the Philip Goldson International Airport, the land border stations, and those areas that are contraband entry points.

“BAHA has quarantine inspectors that are located at all our formal entry points and we also have inspectors at Jalacte [in Toledo] which is a high risk for movement of animals and other agricultural products,” BAHA’s Managing Director Zoe Zetina said, echoing Dr Alvarez statement.

“So, we have all of those areas protected and what we have done is to heighten our inspection at these points of entry. Whenever animals are coming in we ensure that, one, we review the importation criteria to allow permission and, two, that we ensure that we have full inspection. So, any animal that comes in, it’s 100% inspection at this point.”

Zetina also said that BAHA has set conditions for the movement of animals across Belize.

“We also have to work with all the  producers locally to ensure that they’re not bringing in contraband because, you know, we have very porous borders,” Zetina said.

“We have to advise them and work with them to reduce contraband at this time and to inform us of movement of cattle or animals, so we know where they are.”

Reinforcing Director Zetina’s statement, Dr Alvarez said that the advice given to farmers is three-fold.

“One, monitor and report. We are asking them to monitor their animals and report cases of infestation by fly larvae. Two. We’re asking them to comply with regulations, especially those for the importation and movement of animals. We also want them to participate in training and then share the official information that is shared with them through the press releases, through the posters.  They can always contact their association to get more information,” Dr Alvarez said.

“We ask them to report any irregularity in animal health because we have a mandate to respond to that type of emergency.

“Of course we ask them to continue complying with regulations, especially importation regulations. Apply to bring animals legally so that then we determine the health status of the country and the animal that they are bringing in.

BAHA’s Managing Director Zoe Zetina

But the work to keep the New World screwworm out of Belize requires BAHA and MAFSE to also participate in regional control and eradication initiatives.

“We’re working with OIRSA (the International Regional Organization for Agricultural Health), and we’re working with SENASICA (Mexico’s National  Service of Health, Safety, and Agro-Food Quality) because they have a vested interest to keep it out of Mexico,” Zoe Zetina told Breaking Belize News.

Zetina said BAHA is updated on the situation in Costa Rica through OIRSA.

“Whenever we participate as OIRSA, we would have all the regional Animal Health Directors and all the Chief Veterinary Officers attend those meetings and that means that Costa Rica would also have their individual There. So, through that organization we all work together as a region.”

Zetina said OIRSA was formed with the objective of having regional integration to have  all countries on one track.

“They coordinate activities of agricultural health throughout the entire region,” Zetina said, adding that locally, BAHA also works closely with OIRSA, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Belize Livestock Producers Association (BLPA).

“We are having a training session on screwworm very soon and we are targeting private vets and the poultry association for participation.”

And while the main concern right now is the New World screwworm, BAHA continues their surveillance for African Swine Fever and Avian Influenza which are present in the region as well.

 

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