(CNS): The new head of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) is an American mosquito expert, government officials confirmed Tuesday. Dr James “Jim” McNelly will start work in Cayman on Monday, 5 March, when he leaves his current job at the Mosquito Control Division of Volusia County in Florida, where he has been director for more than six years. That division is similar in size to the MRCU and faces many of the same challenges relating to nuisance mosquitoes, vector-borne diseases and the impact the insects have on commerce and tourism.
During the past few years, Dr McNelly’s team has contended with multiple imported cases of mosquito-borne Zika and chikungunya, as well as cases of West Nile virus and malaria, and he was described as having a wealth of experience in mosquito control by the health ministry’s chief officer, Jennifer Ahearn.
“Dr McNelly was the successful candidate following a rigorous recruitment process. We are very fortunate that we have been able to attract someone with such depth of knowledge, who has been running a similar-sized mosquito control programme with many challenges that we also face in the Cayman Islands,” she said.
The ministry gave no details about that recruitment process, such as how many applications were considered or if local candidates had applied. CNS understands that one of the candidates was the current assistant director, who has worked at the department since 1999.
Dr McNelly replaces former director Dr Bill Petrie, who left the unit last year after three decades to become head of the Miami-Dade Mosquito Control Division. Nancy Barnard, who has been acting director in the interim, will return to her duties as deputy chief officer in the Ministry of Health, Environment, Culture and Housing.
“On behalf of the MRCU team, I extend a warm welcome to Dr McNelly,” she said, as she thanked the staff. “This is an extremely professional and harmonious unit,” Barnard added.
Dr McNelly said he was looking forward to joining the MRCU team. “It will be an honour to lead this organisation, which has such an excellent reputation and impressive legacy,” he said.
The new mosquito boss arrives at a time when there are questions surrounding the future direction of mosquito control, as it became apparently recently that not all of the scientists are in agreement about the use of GM mosquitoes in the arsenal of weapons against the increasingly pesticide-resistant Aedes aegypti.
Barnard confirmed last week that the planned national roll-out of the Oxitec GM project was being placed on hold after correspondence revealed some reluctance on the part of the ministry and the MRCU to commit to the technology.
All eyes, however, will now be on Dr McNelly and the position he takes towards the control of that species and the view he has of the Oxitec bio-engineered insects.
Dr McNelly has a long history working in the industry and was with the Illinois-based mosquito control services and products firm Clarke from 2008 until 2011 before going to Florida. Before that he was the regional manager for the company’s environmental mosquito management programme.
He has worked as the mosquito and black fly surveillance project coordinator for Rutgers University in New Jersey, and as an entomologist with the Cape May County Mosquito Commission in the same state. He is also a past president of the New Jersey Mosquito Control Association. He has a degree in agriculture and a masters in ecology as well as a PhD in entomology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.