Sarawak may be declared rabies free only by 2048

D’Cruz (third from right) receiving a donation of RM3,500 from Swinburne University deputy vice-chancellor John Wilson (second from left).

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KUCHING, July 20: It may take Sarawak at least 30 years to be declared free of the deadly rabies, and one of the key challenges is that the state shares a huge border with Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The spread of rabies is believed to have started from Kalimantan in May last year.

Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) chairperson Rebecca D’Cruz said although there was no specific time frame, which could be from five to 20 years, it was estimated to reach 30 years because of the complexity to stop the spread of the disease.

“There is no mathematical formula to say that it will be done by 2025. It all depends on what we will do over the next few years. If we can get all the right things in place, everyone working together to eliminate it, we can even do it in less than 10 years,” she said after Swinburne University handed over donations to SSPCA and Save Our Strays (SOS) today.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for Sarawak to be declared rabies free, there should be no case of rabies reported in humans and animals for at least two years.

Sarawak has recorded 10 deaths, including young children, since June last year. The 10th victim died on May 31 this year.

D’Cruz said a lot of work has to be done to eliminate the disease, but the task would be difficult and tedious because of the complexity of human mindsets and the porous border with Indonesia.

“Our biggest problem is the border that we share with Kalimantan. We don’t have a ‘Trump’ (USA President Donald Trump) to build a wall for us. Our border is so huge it is almost impossible to keep track of how many dogs enter our side.

“We have many Indonesians crossing the border every day as they are working in the oil palm plantations. Many of them usually bring their dogs along. And who knows, as we are talking right now, another three dogs from Kalimantan may have just entered Sarawak and one of them may have rabies.”

D’Cruz added that there was no telling whether the dogs from Indonesia were vaccinated.

“Most probably not, because these (Indonesian) workers can’t be bothered,” she opined.

She lamented that the state government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were still trying to figure it out after one year from the day the epidemic hit Sarawak.

They were also unsure how much effort the Indonesian side is giving to stop the disease.

“Indonesia said they are putting their best efforts, but we are not sure about it because they are not sharing any information with us. Our government agencies and NGOs are trying hard to work with them to stop the spread of the disease from crossing over” she revealed.

Meanwhile, members of the public are also advised against letting their guard down on rabies.

Continuous public education and adoption of active vigilance is crucial in stopping the spread of the disease.

Sample tests for rabies are sent to the Veterinary Research Institute (VRI) Ipoh, Perak, and it takes about three weeks to know the result.

D’Cruz said all the dogs or cats in the state must be vaccinated and properly recorded.

“We have to do the census, make people understand that this is a big problem; and if we don’t act now, we will live with this for a long time.

“So these next three years will be a great challenge for all of us. We, in SSPCA, will continue to work closely with the government, conducting vaccination and awareness programmes.” — DayakDaily