KUCHING (Sept 27): Sarawak is on track to achieve its goal of becoming a rabies-free state by 2025 through various initiatives that can help to prevent the spread of this deadly but preventable viral disease, says Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom.
The Food Industry, Commodity and Regional Development Minister said in order to prevent the state’s rabies situation from getting out of control, the Sarawak government has come up with preventative and combative measures; the latest of which was the formation of an Immune Belt Enforcement Team (IBET) that was launched by Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg yesterday.
“IBET was established to prevent the incursion of rabies along the Sarawak-Kalimantan border that spans over 1,200km from Tanjung Datu to Lawas.
“There are 32 teams under IBET which have been tasked to curb movements of rabid dogs, carry out surveillance and vaccination of dogs with the Department of Veterinary Services Sarawak (DVSS),” he said in his opening address at the Rabies in Borneo (RIB) Conference here today.
He also said that the state government had allocated RM7.07 million under the Plan of Action for Rabies Control and Elimination Programme while under the 12th Malaysia Plan, DVSS was approved an allocation of RM5 million under the Rabies Eradication Programme.
The Kemena assemblyman pointed out that rabies, a worldwide epidemic, claimed the lives of at least 59,000 people yearly in the world, following contact with rabid dogs.
“In Sarawak, since 2017, there were 47 deaths out of 53 cases,” he said, noting that there were eight fatalities this year.
“Not many of those affected by the virus will survive and even if they do, they will not function as a normal human being. We had only one case that managed to survive rabies.”
Dr Rundi stressed that the eradication of rabies was also very much dependent on members of the community where as responsible pet owners, they must bring their pets for their annual anti-rabies vaccination, neuter their pets, and encourage their family and friends to do the same as well.
He also noted that it was equally important that more public awareness activities and programmes on rabies be organised to educate the public about pet ownership and animal welfare.
On RIB, he said the two-day conference was a timely event to raise awareness about rabies prevention as well as to highlight progress in defeating the disease.
“Over the course of the conference, there will be two approaches of rabies prevention, namely the scientific (medical and veterinary) method and community participation.
“We cannot fight this fight alone, and so we are pleased to welcome our panel of experts from around the region namely Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines to share with us their knowledge and experience in the work they have done in rabies prevention and eradication,” he said.
Later at a press conference, Dr Rundi reiterated his call for the pet owners to be responsible for their pet dogs through regular rabies vaccination.
“The only way for us to solve our rabies situation is to vaccinate our dogs to prevent this virus,” he said.
He also urged pet owners to register their dogs to ensure that the state would be able to keep a record on the number of dogs in Sarawak.
On the vaccination of dogs in rural areas, he said this would be done on a regular basis through IBET.
Meanwhile, Sarawak Security and Enforcement Unit director Datu Dr Chai Khin Chung said IBET plans to visit settlements in rural areas on a quarterly basis each year to vaccinate dogs in the areas.
“There are 978 settlements under our charge and our goal is to go on the ground at least four times a year because puppies can be vaccinated after three months.
“We hope to achieve 100 per cent vaccination under our Immune Belt,” he said.
He also said that IBET would be working closely with communities in the area to remove stray dogs within the Immune Belt area.
“This is so that we can create a buffer so there’s a good chance that we can protect Sarawakians from within the Immune Belt,” he said.
Also present were Department of Veterinary Services Sarawak director Dr Adrian Susin Ambud, and Ministry of Food Industry, Commodity and Regional Development permanent secretary Datu Edwin Abit.