New Strategies Proposed to Control State of Rabies

The Borneo Post (Sabah) 25 Jul 2018

TAWAU: The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry has proposed that new strategies be created in addition to existing strategies to ensure the weakness of Sabah’s Natural Protection Zone does not affect the state of Sabah in the face of the rabies threats.

The four strategies proposed by its minister, Junz Wong, are as follows:

Area zoning within 30 km from the border to be used as an immune zone by enhancing the immune status of rabies carriers, such as dogs and cats, which can restrict the entry and spread of rabies disease through extensive land boundaries;

Movement control to ensure prevention in the spread of rabies disease through the border. The movement of animals (dogs and cats) across zones should be regulated with movement conditions capable of protecting the ‘Free Zone’. For this purpose, dogs and cats located in the ‘Protective Zone’ need to be registered in a database to facilitate the identification of the animals and their owners;

Strategic vaccination, as Sabah rabies policy made in 1995 where vaccination is not allowed in Sabah, should be modified to require vaccination in the Safe Zone under existing law. Dog vaccination in the Protection Zone should reach 70% of the population to get the expected impact;

Unified Disease Index Management for the development or progress of rabies disease control activities should be marked according to certain codes in order to facilitate risk management. For example, disease index management should include the use of color coding to illustrate the current level of disease management.

Junz said by streamlining existing strategies and initiating additional four new strategies, he is confident and believe that Sabah will continue to remain free of rabies.

He said he is also aware that the increase in strategy requires development funds, especially when the Protection Zone is created which his ministry will give due priority in the budget application for that purpose.

Junz said that Sabah’s status of being rabies-free since 1981 has to be maintained as much as possible.

This independent status can be maintained by ensuring that the disease control machinery is in a state of alert and having the appropriate facilities.

He also said that he appreciated the collaboration provided by the Veterinary Services Department (JPV) Putrajaya, Sabah Department of Veterinary Service (DVS) and Malaysia One Health University Network (MyOHUN) in organizing the National Rabies Simulation Program here yesterday to ensure rabies outbreaks are handled as soon as possible.

Junz, who was represented by his deputy, Dr Daud Yusof, hoped that the same simulation program will continue and extend to other areas in Sabah that are at risk for rabies.

“Rabies disease is a very dangerous disease as the infected person will almost certainly die, if it is detected and treated late. Even if the patient is being treated, they usually face permanent disability as a result of damage to brain cells and would ultimately need equipment assistance to survive. Hence, adequate awareness and knowledge about rabies disease is the key to developing strategies to address them,” he said.

According to him, statistics show that every year around 60,000 people worldwide are suffering from rabies. The incidence of rabies outbreak in our neighboring state, Sarawak on July 1, 2017 has cost 10 lives until May 31, 2018. To date, even after the completion of the one-year rabies outbreak in Sarawak, the situation has not yet recovered.

“In Sabah, we are grateful that it is still a region in Malaysia that remains free from rabies. The fast-paced action of the Sabah government when rabies was detected in Sarawak by immediately announcing the ban on dogs from Sarawak was one of the measures to curb the spread of the disease into the state. The prohibition remains until there is new development where no rabies is detected for at least six months before the state government revises the ban,” he said.

Based on the studies made, he said the factors identified with the status of Sabah remaining free of rabies since 1981 include the natural protection at the borders of the state which is thick forests and hilly terrains, strict importation policies for rabies carrier animal categories, such as dogs and cats, a steady quarantine procedure, a consistent awareness campaign against illness, fast rabies carrier bite management system and stray dogs population control.

Junz added while the state is aware that the ‘Natural Protection Zone’ is considered as the most important factor in maintaining Sabah rabiesfree, it is weakening due to the opening up of placement and the increasingly vibrant economic activity, such as the opening of land for commodity crops on both the borders of Sabah and North Kalimantan.

Nonetheless, departments like the Department of Veterinary Services and local authorities should work closely to tackle this problem without compromising the rights of such animals as stipulated in the 2015 Animal Welfare Enactment, he said.