“We are no longer proud to work for the department we used to love”
(CMR) Amid an unprecedented increase in the local mosquito population, it has been revealed that the vast majority of the employees at the Cayman Islands Mosquito Research & Control Unit (MRCU) are extremely concerned about how the department is being operated under its current leadership.
The director is allegedly blowing through his three-year budget at $4 million per annum because of the significant buildup of the mosquito population. Ironically, his six-figure job is now being advertised on the government website. This is the latest in what has been a rough transition for Dr. Jim McNelly.
Some employees have expressed serious concerns about the director of their organization leading a large number of them to sign a vote of no-confidence letter presented to the Ministry of Health & Culture on Monday.
It is said that of the 36 employees at MRCU some 20 persons have signed the letter indicating there is an unprecedented failure of ongoing mosquito control strategies never experienced before. They have accused the director of having “a history of vindictive bullying behavior towards his staff” and share they have lost all confidence in him.
The letter was signed by an overwhelming majority of the disease prevention officers who are essentially the ground crew responsible for much of the day to day functions of mosquito prevention and control in the field. The concerns appear to have been brewing since Dr. McNelly was appointed as Director in February 2018.
In a shocking revelation, the employees share their concerns about the use of what they say are dangerous chemicals never before used in the Cayman Islands. They allege he is buying generic pesticides from his American friends which they refusing to use because of the associated and known health dangers. One mentioned in the letter is the controversial Fyfanon.
Fyfanon is a controversial mosquito adulticide insecticide containing Malathion. This chemical is said to be linked to genotoxic and neurological effects in children, and the European Union said recently that no safe exposure level can be set for the substance. The USA government was to also ban it during the Obama Administration but President Trump has since reversed this.
It is also alledged that despite stating in the Public Accounts Committee in April 2019 that MRCU spraying was not contributing to the death of local bees Dr. McNelly's decision to have planes fly dangerously low to the ground is a contributing factor. One source shared that the planes are not flying at the correct altitude of at least 100 feet. Instead, they are conducting missions at around 62 feet above the ground as instructed by Dr. McNelly.
In part, the letter shares that staff morale is at an all-time low, and changes have been made in the control of mosquitos methods leading to the “mosquito population reaching numbers that most of us never experienced before.
The detailed allegations further note that before Dr. McNelly's there was effective control of the local mosquito population. However, he has since introduced “control methods and products” that are “ineffective.”
One prevention area of concern is that Dr. McNelly has done away with the tried and true pre-hatch treatment used to control mosquitoes before the rainy season began. This method kills mosquito larvae in the swamps before they had the opportunity to hatch and were used by his predecessors Dr. Bill Petri and Dr. Marco Giglioli.
It was explained to CMR that normally the swamps are flooded in order to kill mosquito larvae. This method allows the fish to eat the larvae in the dykes before they hatch. However, for the past two years, this has not been done at the insistence of Dr. McNelly. Once hatched mosquitos can travel up to 30 miles.
Some weeks ago Minister Seymour address the mosquito infestation issue last month a COVID-19 press briefing but claimed that the mosquitos were the harmless non-disease carrying variety.
McNelly has re-assigned the majority of staff to swamp surveillance and re-deployed the 12 employees who previously focused on inspection and treatment of yards for the control of the Aedes aegypti mosquitos which is a known carrier of many diseases including Zika, Dengue fever and Chikungunya. They are only focusing on swamp inspection and trapping the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti to count them.
His tenure has been froth with numerous issues including the controversial issuing on a contract. In December 2019 McNelly hired the head of the failed Oxitech GMO mosquito program's lead scientist, Dr. Renaud Lacroix as a contracted senior research officer. Lacroix was the former project manager of the Oxitech genetically modified mosquito (GM) program launched in 2016. The project was halted by Minister Dwayne Seymour in November 2018 after he announced it was a complete failure.
Dating back to August 2019 there were concerns aired about his use of controversial pesticides.
In June 2019 Ezzard Miller, (NS) urged the government to sort out what he said was a “serious mosquito infestation laughing his North Side constituency.” At that time he said that was the worse he had seen it since the 1960s.
In November 2019 it was revealed that the MRCU's aerial spraying was the main suspect in the death of hundreds of bees in the Seven Mile Beach area.