Sarawak sets aside RM22.8m to curb rabies in 2019 — Uggah

Uggah holding up the text of his winding-up speech, which he later presented on the last day of the DUN sitting today (Nov 14, 2018).

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by Karen Bong

KUCHING, Nov 14: Sarawak has committed an additional RM22.8 million for rabies control programmes and activities next year.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas informed the august House today that RM20 million had been spent on various programmes and activities to control and eradicate rabies.

“I invoked the Anti-Rabies Vaccination Order requiring all dogs in the state be vaccinated against rabies soon after the gazettement of the first rabies-affected areas in Serian Division,” he said when delivering his winding-up speech.

“Our aim is to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the estimated 220,000 dogs in Sarawak in order to provide good herd immunity and to effectively stop further spread of rabies among the dog population, thus preventing enzootic transmission to humans.”

The vaccination programmes, he revealed, had been successful in smaller towns such as Serian, Samarahan, Sri Aman and Sarikei, where the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) Sarawak was able to achieve more than 70 per cent coverage.

“To date, about 110,000 dogs in the state have been vaccinated,” he added.

Irene Mary Chang (DAP-Bukit Assek) then interjected to raise concerns on the need for stricter measures to control and eradicate rabies in the state, including the situation and challenges in Sibu division.

Uggah replied that the rabies mass vaccination programmes had achieved 32.9 per cent of coverage in Sibu, while efforts would continue to be intensified.

Uggah hoped elected representatives from all areas, including Bukit Assek, could help as he observed that there was a period of time, of almost a year after the occurrence of rabies, that public response to the mass vaccination programmes slowed down.

“That’s why we are intensifying on publicity. So, we appeal to all representatives, regardless from wherever, to mobilise their members and supporters to help (inform and educate the public) to bring their pets vaccinated as well as advice dog owners to be responsible,” he added.

Chang had also raised concerns whether a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) was in place to control the movements of dogs across the border and onto the shores of Sarawak after receiving information that the deadly virus, in fact, came from West Kalimantan as early as 2014 and 2015, but the Ministry (through the State Disaster Management Committee) was still discussing a collaboration with its West Kalimantan counterpart as allegedly reported on Nov 2.

On that, Uggah was puzzled as to where Chang had obtained the information and reiterated that ever since the first human case was reported on July 1, 2017, the state government immediately placed rabies control under the Committee and a joint committee was formed with the Indonesian counterpart.

“That purpose was to coordinate (efforts) because we know the source (of the outbreak) was from the other side. So we coordinated with them on vaccination (programmes) on their part and on our part as well as stop movements of dogs from both sides,” he explained, while pointing out the challenging tasks considering the length of the Sarawak-Kalimantan border.

“The SOP has already been established at the early stage since the first human case was reported in July 2017. Of course, as we moved along, we will always make improvements where there is a weakness. We will look at how to strengthen because the ultimate objective is to resolve the issue,” he assured.

Admitting that the entire state was scared and worried about rabies, Uggah asked Chang if she had vaccinated her dogs, if she has any, and this caused laughter in the august House.

On the state’s surveillance programme, Uggah said it now supported with its own rabies testing facility in the State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, thus enabling DVS Sarawak to confirm rabies quicker.

Out of the 838 samples taken for the surveillance programme, he revealed that 258 dogs and 15 cats tested positive for rabies.

Uggah also emphasised that an immune belt of 10km width from Telok Melano to Lubok Antu as well as Ba’Kelalan along the Sarawak Kalimantan border has been established.

“In this belt, all dogs are required to be vaccinated annually in order to protect them from getting rabies from dogs across the border.

“A bilateral meeting was held with our Indonesian counterpart in July 2017 to discuss measures by both governments to curb the rabies outbreak. The meeting agreed to conduct joint vaccination within the immune belt at both sides of the border. Both sides have agreed to upgrade their control programme on rabies based on the agreed standard operating procedures,” he added.

Animal movements between the divisions, he continued, were regulated by movement permits and roadblocks instituted by the police to curtail movements over land.

“Similarly, checks are being carried out at airports, wharves and border entry points. A dog owner has been fined for trying to move his dog from Kuching to Limbang, which contravened Section 37 (2) of the Veterinary Public Health Ordinance 1999,” he said. — DayakDaily