Wednesday, August 21

Rabies: No all-clear sign just yet


Despite no new infected areas, minister says surveillance still needs to be carried out

Shabery (second left) taking a look at a pet dog which was brought by its owner for vaccination during the Rabies Disease Vaccination Programme as Uggah (third left) looks on. — Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

BAU: It is still too early for Sarawak to be declared as rabies-free even though the rabies situation in the state is on the road to recovery, said Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

He described the present situation as stable, noting that the number of rabies-infected areas in the state still remained at 22.

“The rabies-infected areas and those within 10km radius are surveillance areas where we will carry out rabies vaccination and be on the lookout in case any new cases might crop up there. Up till today (yesterday), we have not received any report on any new cases other than the 22 rabies-infected areas.

“Nevertheless, it is still too early to declare that Sarawak is now rabies-free and we hope that there will be no new cases after this,” he told a press conference after attending the Rabies Disease Vaccination Programme at Bau Civic Centre here yesterday.

Also present were Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, Assistant Minister of Local Government Datu Dr Penguang Manggil, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Datuk Anthony Nogeh, Assistant Minister of Agriculture Dr Abdul Rahman Ismail and Veterinary Services Department (VSD) director-general Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam.

With more than 23,000 animals, most of which were dogs, vaccinated in the state thus far, Shabery gave his assurance that the rabies vaccine in the state would be sufficient.

“In our country, we have around 47,000 vaccines available and if need be, we will order more vaccines from the World Organisation for Animal Health, an organisation that provides vaccines to several locations worldwide, to be delivered to Malaysia as soon as possible,” he said.

Considering that most of the dogs vaccinated were pets, Shabery was also asked on what procedures were taken on stray dogs.

“For stray dogs, we will go through the normal procedure where they will be segregated and euthanised,” he said, adding that so far, 577 stray dogs from the 22 rabies-infected areas had been caught.

Shabery also said he had discussed with the state government and VSD for more manpower from the federal counterpart to come to Sarawak to assist in tackling the outbreak.

“We may probably increase the number of officers in a team to around 10 to 20 so that we can establish more teams to move around the rabies-infected areas.

“I will inform through the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) to get assistance from other agencies such as the army, police, Civil Defence Force (APM) and so on to help in curbing the rabies outbreak in Sarawak,” he remarked.

On the Immune Belt at border areas, he said once it has been established, the government will set a few regulations such as making it compulsory for all dogs to be vaccinated including those that are outside the 22 rabies-infected areas.

“We might also look at setting a regulation whereby every dog must have an owner, must be vaccinated and also owns a licence which will be hung on its collar to ensure that dogs in our country are clean.

“This is not an odd arrangement because in advanced countries, this is the method they use for their pet dogs whereby each dog would have its own identification and report card that contains its medical records and so on. That is the responsibility of pet owners there,” he explained.

Shabery (second left) takes a look at a map identifying the rabies-infected areas while being accompanied by Uggah (left) and others.
—Photos by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

Pet owners waiting for their turn to have their dogs vaccinated.

Two pet owners bring their dogs to be vaccinated at Bau Civic Centre.

He acknowledged that if the government were to introduce these new regulations, it might be too drastic for Sarawak’s ‘traditional community’ which often regards their dogs as being part of the community.

“But I believe that through education and awareness programmes, the community will be able to accept the suitable regulation that ensures no unwanted incidents will occur in our country especially in Sarawak.”

Meanwhile, Uggah, who is also State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) chairman, said a committee had been established following a meeting with the Indonesian Consulate recently.

“We have agreed that several measures will be taken by both parties (Sarawak and Indonesia) to control the entry and exit of dogs at the border as well as to exchange information on whatever situation that occurs in either Sarawak or Kalimantan.”

Asked if he had been informed of the current situation in Kalimantan, Uggah said he did not have the latest report at present.

“Let us focus on what is happening here first,” he stressed.

Around 533 dogs were vaccinated by the Sarawak Veterinary Services Department (JPVS) at the Rabies Disease Vaccination Programme held at Bau Civic Centre here yesterday.