The Department of Biosecurity is conducting a three-day post Van2017 Mini South Pacific Games pest and disease surveillance, to determine if any plant or animal disease entered the country following entry into the country for Games by hundreds of athletes and officials of over 20 countries in the region.
Touasi Tiwok, Principal Biosecurity Officer at the Department of Biosecurity, who is also Acting Director of the Department, explains to Kizzy Kalsakau of the Vanuatu Nightly News of 96 BuzzFM, that prior to the Mini Games the Department had to carry out an intensive surveillance on border control initiative, which involved protecting anything that came through the border.
“We looked after all the passengers that were coming in, especially for the Mini Games, the participants that actually participated in the Games.
“We carried out 100% checks of all the baggage for anything that came through, and so we confiscated any plants and any fruits that were brought in that were not declared by the participants and we took things that needed to be fumigated,” Mrs. Tiwok said.
“What we are doing now is just to check that our checks that we were doing during the Games were sufficient enough to protect our borders from any introduced foreign disease through plants and animals.”
She said the department was undertaking the two/three-day full day surveillance covering the areas beginning at Nambatu area and the whole area between Nambatu Lagoon and Anambrou and Freshwater.
These areas have been specifically chosen because athletes had been more concentrated in these areas especially the areas of the sports facilities where they spend most their time.
“If we missed them eating an apple, for example at these places, they could throw any leftovers there, that’s why that span of area has been chosen and highlighted as the most high risk areas. Any disease outbreak would be in that area and then it would spread and move away from there,” Mrs. Tiwok explained.
“This is why our sampling has been very thorough. We’re taking GPS points where our samples have been taken where we’re taking samples and bringing them back to the lab and doing tests and if there’ve we’re taken samples and we will then go back to those sites we’ve identified as risks and then we will then follow through with a follow up.”
Over 13 officers are carrying out the survey, divided into six groups of twos, who interview people and collect samples. The officers are also educating the people on why they are doing this.
An awareness program will follow this surveillance, where the department has developed materials to use to educate people on the risks of pests and diseases in the country.
“I think it is good to do that because we are having a movement of people moving in and out of the country. We have the wharf and we have the airport and these expansions allow for a lot of movement and a lot of movement means of people are bringing things.
“We have to be mindful that bringing food in and out of the country can also be risk for our environment. So, we want to be able to control that and to be able to protect our borders by having these kinds of activities.”
“What our officers will be doing will be going through and interviewing people and taking samples of plants and animals. So far, they’ve collected 20 samples. They are picking off fruits and picking off ticks from animals and interviewing people that are in these yards and homes and asking them and verifying of they’ve seen any changes in their plants and if they’ve seen any disease on their plants.
“We’ve had confirmation from the ground from my officers that they’ve seen lots of African snails and seen a lot of invasive species which they’ve brought in to do more sampling and studies on.
“So, this basically is just to help us to understand if anything has been introduced prior to and after the Mini Games,” Mr. Tiwok explained.