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Bali rabies spread due to `lack of action' by officials Print E-mail
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ʺ, 29 Ҥ 2009

SOURCE: Luh De Suriyani ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Denpasar  |  Wed, 10/28/2009 1:30 PM  | Bali


In the last few weeks, I Nengah Kantun used to watch local TV news reports of the anti-rabies drive and the culling of stray dogs in Badung, Denpasar and Tabanan.

The resident of Amlapura in Karangasem regency viewed such reports much like any other TV show.

"I thought it was just an ordinary issue," he said.

"I always thought the rabies virus wouldn't affect the dogs in my town or cross into the regency. But when I found out one of the dogs here was infected, I was terrified."

Many residents of Amlapura and other towns in the regency were similarly concerned, including at the Karangasem Husbandry Agency.

Staff at the office have been accused of being too slow and even too lazy to act on instructions from the Bali Husbandry Agency.

The rabies outbreak hit Bali in November 2008 and has killed at least 18 people to date. The provincial husbandry agency has instructed regional offices to take prompt action to prevent the outbreak in their areas.

Last September, agency head I.B. Ketut Alit ordered offices in the island's eight regencies and municipality to inoculate all dogs with anti-rabies vaccines.

Karangasem regency received 10,000 of the vaccines, but never took them out of storage until last weekend, when two residents were bitten by rabid dogs.

Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika has frequently warned regional administrations and residents alike to take the island's rabies epidemic very seriously.

"I hope the entire community and all offices and agencies involved do not take this issue lightly," he said.

"This is a serious health threat to the people of the island."

The Health Ministry recently declared Bali as having the most rabies cases in the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) usually declares Sept. 28 as World Anti-Rabies Day, but the resort island will mark the event on Nov. 4.

The rabies outbreak has dented the island's all-important tourism industry. Several countries, including the United States and Australia, have issued warnings to their citizens to be on the alert when visiting Bali, which welcomes 7,000 foreign visitors a day.

As the rabies outbreak spread to Badung, Denpasar, Tabanan and Karangasem regencies, Buleleng Husbandry Agency head Putu Ardika boasted last Saturday that the coastal regency was still considered a "rabies-free region".

In Tabanan regency, the local health and husbandry agencies were deemed to have acted too slowly to take care of dog-bite patients and to implement mass vaccination drives and mass culls of stray dogs. Seven people later died from rabies in Tabanan.

Data from the Bali Husbandry Agency puts the island's dog population at 408,000. The agency has inoculated 64,851 dogs and culled 25,616 across Bali since early this year. Thirty-seven dogs, mostly in Badung regency, were found to be infected with the rabies virus.

WHO standards stipulate at least 70 percent of the entire dog population (an estimated 350,000 dogs) must get anti-rabies vaccines.

Experts say a change in the Balinese people's attitude toward pets, dogs in particular, must be made if the island wants to be free from any animal-borne diseases such as bird flu and rabies.

I Wayan Mudiarta, operations director at the Yudhistira Swarga Foundation, which deals with stray dogs, argued local people would not allow their dogs to be culled by the authorities.

"Dogs have always been the locals' best friends," he said.

"The animals mingle with humans both at home and in public. The Balinese never cage their dogs."

If they did, Mudiarta went on, the animals would become aggressive.

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