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Opinion

Saturday, 13 January 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Learn from Bali to contain rabies

I REFER to the report “Sarawak starts major anti-rabies operation to remove strays” (The Star, Jan 3).

The Sarawak government’s efforts to contain the rabies outbreak (which claimed five human lives last year), including the campaign to provide free vaccination in certain areas, are truly commendable.

But the effectiveness of the recent move to embark on a major operation to remove strays and free-roaming dogs off the streets, which might be relatively cheaper, is debatable.

It is also well known that the methods used for mass stray removal are cruel and extremely distressing for the animals.

Experts the world over agree that there is no evidence to show the removal of stray dogs has any significant impact on the spread of rabies or density of dog population. The only sustainable and long-term solution to the issue is mass vaccination.

A very resourceful website (https://caninerabiesblueprint.org/) documents all the facts and research articles on effective rabies control programmes. The information is aimed at helping countries where rabies is present to reduce the number of human rabies cases and eventually eliminate canine rabies in the outbreak areas.

Prevention of human deaths from canine rabies is achievable by integrating effective strategies of mass dog vaccination with improved accessibility to human preventive measures. Research filed by the World Health Organisation also reported that cases of dog rabies declined in line with increasing levels of dog vaccination. In contrast, culling was ineffective in suppressing rabies and can be counterproductive (WHO expert consultation on rabies: first report. Geneva: the Organization; 2005.)

A lesson learnt from the rabies outbreak in Bali, Indonesia in 2008 is that emergency vaccinations and culling of dogs will not successfully contain an outbreak. It was only after 2011 when Bali undertook a massive vaccination campaign on at least 70% of the island’s dog population that the rabies outbreak was significantly controlled.

The Sarawak government should consider deploying more vaccination teams to as many areas as possible at the same time.

Efforts should also be intensified to limit the unrestricted movement of pet dogs through promotion of responsible dog ownership and legislative measures, and local authorities should make vaccination compulsory to all dogs.

According to a Borneo Post report on Jan 2, at least 42,000 stray dogs have been vaccinated against rabies in Sarawak.

Indiscriminate and inhumane killing of free-roaming dogs is not recommended. It could make the situation worse and might also raise international concerns over our attitude to animal welfare. The state authorities should therefore review their current rabies control efforts.

LOU JIA YING

Kuching