Outside of the influx of Venezuelans entering the country legally and illegally as they seek refuge away from the brink of starvation, some bringing with them criminality, sickness and disease are major fears associated with their arrival.
Last month, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, during a news conference said the re-establishment of malaria in the country was something that needed to be prevented and citizens must be proactive in preventing the disease. Acting chief medical officer Dr Vishwanath Partapsingh said the disease had an incubation period of between seven to 30 days. He revealed that, for the year, there have been 13 confirmed cases of malaria.
According to an article in The Economist last year, in 2015, the country had 30 per cent of all the cases of malaria reported in the Americas. At that time, the Venezuelan government reported that 240,000 cases were detected in 2016, while Dr José Félix Oletta, former health minister, estimates that more than half a million Venezuelans will contract malaria in 2017. With an estimated 150-200 Venezuelan coming to Trinidad weekly, it is feared that along with hopes of a better life, they are bringing a disease that was eradicated in TT in 1965.
Another fear is that sick animals are being imported. The animals are sold at below market price and some are convinced the animals are infested with all sorts of diseases including foot and mouth disease. President of the Sheep and Goat Association Shiraz Khan said the illegal importation of animals is nothing new but, with the crisis in Venezuela, it has increased. Khan said greater government intervention was needed as there had been talks of animals being riddled with diseases but no tests had been done to confirm that. He questioned what a goat or sheep from Venezuela might look like and, since no one could tell, when the animals did enter the country how could they be detected unless animals were routinely tested. He added that once an animal was confirmed to have foot and mouth disease, then those within a five-mile radius must be killed along with the infected animals.
“Yes I am concerned and I am worried but what can we do? The Ministry of Agriculture has to do some more. There is a problem with sick animals in the country but without the proper test to confirm that an animal is sick how could we tell?” Khan said
Last year, veterinarian Kriyaan Singh warned of a reported increase in Canine Distemper Virus which he attributed to the increase in illegal importation of dogs from Venezuela. Carcasses have also been smuggled in and Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat warned last year that the meat may be contaminated. The carcasses were later incinerated after the meat began to rot. Birds and other animals are also being imported into the country illegally. Sunday Newsday telephoned and messaged Rambarath but got no response.