Paul Cadogan and Sarah Wilkinson-Eytle | COVID-19 lives and livelihoods from veterinarian’s perspective
Just over 200 days ago COVID-19 reached the shores of Jamaica. Our health authorities acted with alacrity to contain the spread, keep the population informed, and prepare the country, both physically and mentally, for the challenges which the experts knew were ahead of us.
After all, we have coped with dengue, seen ChikV and ZikV and, along with the rest of the world, had been preparing for Ebola. After an excellent start and success at ‘flattening the curve’, we opened our borders and bit by bit – with an election, national celebrations, beach parties, funerals and nine-nights – we have reached the stage of community spread.
As veterinarians, we stand with other colleagues in the healthcare community who are concerned that Jamaica is heading in the wrong direction, that if serious action is not taken now, both lives and livelihoods will be irrevocably lost. What are some of the concerns of the veterinary community as we all, as humans, face this ongoing pandemic together?
As veterinarians, our initial concern is our food security, which means ensuring that we have a steady availability of nutritious food of all types moving forward. How can COVID-19 affect food supplies?
First, it can impact our farmers, our producers: those who become ill, or have to halt operations because of illness among workers, may be unable to care for their livestock properly. Farmers whose markets are reduced or gone may not earn enough to maintain their livestock. Recall the effect of the initial COVID-19 lockdown on egg farmers around the island when the tourism industry closed down – having to dump their eggs and destroy their chickens because they could no longer afford to feed and care for them. It is difficult to recover from that, and long-term shortages, even after COVID-19 has passed, can result. Prices also go up.
Another significant risk to our food supply chain is in the operations of our abattoirs and meat-processing plants. These are workplaces where people work in close confines and, as has been seen occurring in other countries, are great incubators for COVID-19 spread: sick workers, rapid spread, forced closure, then food shortages. It can happen here! Companies and individual workers need to realise the vital function they play in the life of our country and ensure that maximum infection-prevention measures are employed – from mask-wearing to sanitisation. The repercussions of this could lead to shortages of pork, beef, chicken and eggs, even canned and packaged goods.
There is also the animal welfare concern. Should the economic situation in the country deteriorate under COVID-19 pressure, owners, both of livestock and pets, may find it difficult to care for them – from food to healthcare. Since all clinical veterinary medicine in Jamaica is provided by private practitioners, this may lead to an increase in suffering or abandonment of animals as owners postpone, ignore, or ‘do their own thing’ if they are sick or injured. Reports from India state that there has been increased aggression among stray dogs in the major cities as the lockdown, and less patrons to restaurants, for example, causes more competition for food, leading to more fights and overall aggression.
Veterinarians and our staff are just as susceptible to catching COVID-19 as anyone else. In our global community, there have been illness and death. We have had to take precautions as we do our work, and distance ourselves from our clients. We have had to shorten clinic hours at times and modify mobile services. We are considered an essential service and all registered veterinarians in Jamaica are authorised officers under the Disaster Risk Management Act. It is a great responsibility.
The supply of veterinary drugs in Jamaica has also been severely affected by the pandemic, with shortages of critical antibiotics, dewormers, vaccines and many other drugs being experienced. This has added to our usual challenges with obtaining modern veterinary drugs and has reduced our ability to adequately prevent, treat and contain diseases and other illnesses among animals.
In some parts of the world, vets have assisted in the COVID-19 fight by volunteering equipment such as ventilators and PPE from their practices. In some cases they have volunteered themselves, as trained medical professionals, to play supporting roles under the supervision of physician colleagues where human healthcare workers have been overwhelmed. We stand ready, but hope that it never comes to this point in Jamaica.
It is easy to become despondent and think that all is lost, that COVID-19 is unstoppable and will get to us one by one, one way or another. But even in the face of overwhelming odds, we must fight back. And that ‘we’ means all of us – the Government, the people of our beloved Jamaica.
One health. One love. One world.
Dr Paul Cadogan is a veterinarian at the Denbigh Veterinary Clinic, May Pen, Clarendon; past secretary and PR chair, current member of the executive, Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association. Dr Sarah Wilkinson-Eytle is a veterinarian at Phoenix VetCare, Kingston, and past president of the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association. Send feedback to email@example.com.