Rabies outbreak escalates as Sarawak vaccinates only 4,764 dogs in 5 months

Dr Sim (in yellow shirt) together with others at the Rabies Awareness Public Forum held at MBKS Auditorium on May 26, 2023.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, May 26: Only 4,764 dogs have been vaccinated in Sarawak in the first five months of this year, revealed Deputy Premier Dato Sri Dr Sim Kui Hian as he urged the public to take immediate action given that the rabies situation has relapsed with nine rabies-related deaths reported so far.

Recognising the gravity of the situation as rabies can be fatal but also 100 per cent preventable, Dr Sim emphasised the need to escalate efforts as the authorities estimated that there are at least 55,000 dogs yet to be vaccinated in Sarawak.

“Dog vaccinations have dropped significantly over the years and we see rabies cases are coming back.

“But rabies has been around in Sarawak since 2017 so the awareness of the issue is not new. Back in 2017, a lot of us panicked when we saw dogs wandering around but complacency has set in particularly with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At its peak, the authority had managed to vaccinate 66,000 dogs in the first six months of 2018. In the subsequent year, the figure dropped to 50,000 and then dwindled to 41,000 in 2020. In the past two years due to the pandemic, we only managed to vaccinate between 12,000 and 14,000 dogs,” he shared.

Dr Sim highlighted this when addressing the ‘Dog Bite Kills: Rabies Awareness Public Forum’ organised by Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) Sarawak Chapter at Kuching South City Council (MBKS) auditorium today.

As such, the Minister for Public Health, Housing and Local Government reiterated his plea for the public to take the matter seriously and actively contribute to Sarawak’s target of zero rabies cases and deaths by 2025, aligning with the World Health Organisation (WHO) global goal to end rabies by 2030.

“We don’t want to be the only country which caused WHO to fail in achieving its mission because of the (behaviour of the) people of Sarawak.

“We nearly had it (rabies) under control but because we let our guard down, especially due to Covid-19, the situation has worsened. But prevention, control and awareness is nothing new which is similar to how we have handled the pandemic,” he pointed out.

With the high rate of vaccination along the border area covering 73.8 per cent of the dog population so far this year, Dr Sim said the focus now is addressing the rabies issue inside Sarawak, whether in rural or urban areas.

“Finger pointing and blaming others will not yield solutions. When someone dies of rabies, people will complain and point to the council for not doing anything. Always someone else at fault and not yourself. That’s not the way to solve this issue,” he said.

The authorities like Department of Veterinary Service (DVS) and the Sarawak Health Department cannot solve this rabies issue by themselves, Dr Sim emphasised.

“The government and authorities can only be successful when everyone do their part to bring this alarming situation under control,” he added.

Additionally, Dr Sim mentioned that MBKS is currently working with private veterinarians to provide not only vaccination services but also registration and microchipping for pet animals.

Sarawak Health director Dr Ooi Choo Huck, DVS Sarawak director Dr Adrian Susin Ambud and its assistant director Dr Nicholas Jenek, MMA Sarawak chairman Dr Liew Shan Fap as well as Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) Infectious Diseases chief Dr Chua Hock Hin and senior consultant paediatrician Dr Ooi Mong How were among those present. — DayakDaily