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Rodent control challenging

Stakeholders at Monday’s meeting.

by Lisa Bayley

Bridgetown and the urban corridor of Barbados have presented significant challenges to the Environmental Health Department of the Ministry of Health.

Easy access to food by rodents through the unsanitary habits of food handlers and consumers, in addition to availability of shelter within the drainage network in the city, has made the challenge of rodent control extremely complex.

And, according to Acting Minister of Health, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, Bridgetown had much to lose economically and socially if strategies were not developed to control disease-carrying vectors in this island’s commercial, financial and business hub.

She made these remarks at the Environmental Health Department’s, City of Bridgetown Rodent Control Stakeholders Consultation, held at Solidarity House, Harmony Hall, St. Michael, on Monday.

Pointing to an increase in leptospirosis cases last year, Sandiford-Garner noted that trends indicated that the number of cases for 2012 would exceed the numbers for the same period last year. The aim of the meeting was to create a persistent and sustainable focus on community involvement, health education, chemical control, source reduction and surveillance activities.

“Over the last 10 years, annual leptospirosis cases have ranged from a low of 11 to a high of 44, with an annual average of 21. On average there are two deaths per year. Our goal is to significantly reduce these numbers… The major goal is to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with vector-borne illnesses, as well as to reduce economic loss to homeowners and businesses within our capital Bridgetown, through the implementation of activities to reduce existing and potential environmental health risks,” she noted.

Cognisant that any successful rodent control programme or effort could not be the exclusive domain of The Environmental Health Department of the Ministry of Health, Sandiford-Garner called on stakeholders to forge a partnership with the department. “Your presence here today is a testimony of your willingness to combine your efforts with ours to make Bridgetown a cleaner and more hygienic place for all of us,” she added.

In the past, the Department had mainly utilised a chemical approach to kill rodents. However, Chief Environmental Health Officer, Tyrone Applewhaite, revealed that in environmental health, this should be a last resort.

“Just before World Cup Cricket in Barbados in 2007, the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc., in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, gave us $17,000 to develop 500 bait stations to be deployed across Bridgetown. We did that and that to some extent strengthened our chemical programme because the bait stations provided a more systematic approach to monitoring the rodent activity.

“We have actually integrated those stations into a Geographic Information System that gives us a better understanding as to what is happening in Bridgetown with respect to rodent activity,” he pointed out.

The CEHO, however, hastened to emphasise that this approach was unsustainable since bait stations had to compete with the considerable food waste that is strewn across the City and its environs.

“We would continue to kill rats in the City only to see at the end of the day a re-emergence in the numbers of the rodent population… Bridgetown provides some of the sweetest food for rodents in the country. You have chicken, pork, rice, everything down there,” the senior health official observed.

To respond to this threat, the Department put together a technical team to create a comprehensive sustainable approach. The area is home to 4,430 persons and the technical team is headed by Senior Environmental Health Officer, Maurice Gaskin.

In reviewing the current programme, he noted that: “Community health practices, illegal dumping, improper disposal of refuse, casual littering, overgrown vegetation, derelict vehicles and houses and vagrants are responsible for the problem of rodents in Bridgetown.”

The encircled target area starts at The Garrison Savannah and includes Dalkeith, Culloden Road, Martindales Road, Halls Road, Roebuck Street, Country Road, Passage Road, Westbury Road, President Kennedy Drive to the Coast Guard Base. An evaluation of the area identified 66 lots of overgrown vegetation, 120 illegal dump sites, 67 derelict vehicles and 40 derelict buildings as contributory factors to this public health problem.

Some 80 stakeholders from the business sector, departments of government, the church and non-governmental organisations attended the meeting and discussions centred around greater education on the consequences of littering, prosecution of persons who litter and those who encourage the harbouring of rats, mosquitoes and other vermin, advocacy and the possibility of more effective scheduling of garbage pick-up in the City.

A number of viruses are carried by rodents, including rat bite fever, salmonellosis, leptospirosis and hantaviral disease. The public is reminded that rat bait is available free of cost at the Vector Control Unit at Jemmotts Lane, St. Michael, and at the polyclinics, with the exception of those at The Glebe and Warrens.

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