It is my great honour and privilege to be here with you today as Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) expands its research footprint in St. Kitts and Nevis.
I am confident that the official opening of this USD $10.5 million-dollar Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) Research and Pathology building will further enhance Ross University’s academic reputation, as well as its already high standards.
Significantly, the new building represents the next phase of RUSVM’s important research into the study, diagnosis and control of veterinary diseases.
In 2013, RUSVM established a postgraduate programme for Masters and PhD studies and one year later it broke ground on this building.
On behalf of the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis, I heartily congratulate Adtalem Global Education – the parent organization of RUSVM – its teaching staff, students, and administrative employees on this important new phase.
Impressively, this new building features 13,000 square feet of research space and comprises a pathology viewing area to enhance student learning. In this facility, animal cadavers will be given post-mortem examinations so that researchers can determine their cause of death.
Importantly, this will further strengthen St. Kitts and Nevis’ FOOD AND AGRICULTURE SECTOR.
In particular, the research and pathology building will revitalize animal agricultural research by strengthening best practices in monitoring and protecting our herd health, our public health system, and our food supply – from the farm to the dinner table.
My Government is therefore excited about today’s opening because of the critical role that animal science research plays in FOOD SECURITY.
This new facility will surely build on the collaboration that RUSVM, the Government and local stakeholders have fostered for 35 years by helping to protect the economic vitality of the local food industry and ensuring the resilient, secure and sustainable local production of food.
Indeed, Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis through the Department of Agriculture already have a longstanding relationship in respect to pathology services.
RUSVM performs autopsies on livestock animals that die at the Basseterre abattoir, and the university provides this service free of charge. This partnership allows students to obtain the educational exposure in a manner that is socially acceptable, while at the same time allowing the Agriculture Department to make informed, science-based decisions relating to animal health and food safety.
Our strong history of collaborating with Ross University in the control, prevention, surveillance and treatment of disease is further cemented with this new research phase, not only in the area of food security.
My Government is also happy that this new phase will result in enhanced understanding and control of ZOONOTIC diseases that are transferred between animals and people, such as leptospirosis, and VECTOR-BORNE diseases such as Chikungunya, Dengue fever and Zika. As you know, those three vector-borne diseases are spread by mosquito bites.
In late 2013, an outbreak of Chikungunya – which has caused periodic outbreaks in Africa and Asia since the 1960s – erupted in the Caribbean.
Within nine months of that outbreak, there were more than 9,000 laboratory-confirmed Chikungunya cases in the Caribbean. (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Then on February 1st, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The PHEIC declaration was subsequently ended on November 18th, 2016 although WHO believes Zika and its associated complications “remain a significant enduring public health challenge requiring intense action.”
This Research and Pathology building therefore comes at an important moment in time.
Today’s opening presents an opportunity to work even closer together in the area of public health.
The research findings generated by RUSVM scientists and students have long informed public health policies, practices and programmes at the federal and community levels in St. Kitts and Nevis, for instance, in respect to mosquito-borne diseases.
My Government therefore envisages that the RUSVM Research and Pathology Building will serve to strengthen our ongoing partnership by becoming a national reference centre or important focal point for studying and controlling vector-borne viral and bacterial diseases.
In this capacity, researchers conducting scientific studies right here at RUSVM would, inter alia, collect reference materials; contribute to the establishment of an early warning and response system for disease outbreaks; help strengthen disease-surveillance activities; improve disease knowledge, and provide information and scientific advice to the Ministry of Health locally, as well as to regional and international health organizations.
In strengthening strategic partnerships with internal and external stakeholders, RUSVM researchers could play an important role collaborating on the development and evaluation of vaccines.
Thinking big, this RUSVM Research and Pathology Building could also someday be designated a PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre, joining the more than 180 Centres that currently exist in 15 countries in the Americas, including 10 in Cuba, two in Puerto Rico, one in Grenada, which is housed at St. George’s University, and one in Jamaica, which is housed at the UWI School of Nursing at Mona.
As I reflect on my Government’s hopes and dreams for this new building at RUSVM, it would be remiss of me not to give thanks for the hopes and dreams that Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine has already fulfilled for the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Indeed, RUSVM has been a faithful friend and champion of St. Kitts and Nevis and its people, approximately 300 of whom are on its local payroll.
Moreover, we cannot forget that RUSVM was a major donor partner in helping my Government to deliver a brand new and expanded Mary Charles Hospital. We delivered it so that thousands of people in Cayon, Key’s, Mansion, Molineux, Parson’s, Phillip’s, Saddler’s and other areas in their medical district could benefit – and we did this within 18 months of taking office.
Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine also provided key technical assistance, partnering with our Public Works Department and Ministry of Health to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the Mary Charles Hospital in advance of its extensive refurbishment.
Most recently, RUSVM has provided funding to the St. Kitts Department of Agriculture’s Fisheries Section, to help kick-start its aquaculture project, which through the farming of aquatic organisms will contribute to food security, income generation and job creation.
What’s more, Ross University School of Medicine – RUSVM’s sister school under the Adtalem Global Education umbrella – partners with our Ministry of Health in organizing Community Health Fairs. These health fairs provide free wellness screenings including blood pressure, blood glucose, body mass index (BMI), vision, heart and lung tests. A recent health fair was held at the Mary Charles Hospital on June 30th.
I take this opportunity to congratulate Ross University School of Veterinary on reaching 35 years in St. Kitts this year. RUSVM relocated from Dominica to St. Kitts in 1983 – the year of our nation’s Independence.
In this anniversary year, RUSVM reached the 5,000th graduate milestone, and for this I extend hearty congratulations. Significantly, it is estimated that three out of four graduates of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine are engaged with RUSVM in one way or another.
My Government commends Ross for graduating talented veterinarians who work all around the world. It also pleases us that many of your graduates share a commitment with their cherished alma mater to deepen ties with St. Kitts and Nevis.
Many of your distinguished alumni continue to be involved in the country’s development, with several of them giving back directly by teaching at RUSVM and spearheading worthwhile initiatives such as the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network based in St. Kitts and Nevis.
This year, RUSVM established an alumni awards programme through its highly active alumni association. These awards celebrate alumni who represent RUSVM in their respective communities and in doing so contribute to the overall reputation of the school. One of the inaugural awardees was Dr. Kimberly Stewart, who directs the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network.
I also take this opportunity to thank your graduates who continue to holiday in St. Kitts and Nevis so that they can show their children and loved ones where they studied; some even honeymoon here. There have even been Rossie-themed weddings in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Moreover, your alums come back as guest lecturers, working with RUSVM student clubs, but the biggest draw for them is your Annual West Indies Veterinary Conference, which attracted participation from more than 150 alumni last year.
We are grateful for their continued interest and involvement in our beloved Federation, and our nation thanks Ross University for its many years of devotion and dedication in giving back to our society and communities through philanthropic activities.
We trust that all of RUSVM’s academic and scientific pursuits will go from strength to strength as it expands its research footprint, using cutting-edge science to create value and promote productivity and longevity in our beloved country.