A Jab at Rabies

As the images captured by a Bali Times photographer on page four of this edition show, in places there is tangible evidence of action in the battle against one of Bali’s biggest health emergencies for years. On an island-wide scale, it is not enough.

So far this year this newspaper has continued to hear almost daily from readers of their concerns about what really is being done to eradicate rabies from this island. From around Bali, from the crowded south to the remote areas of the east and north, they report no visible signs that measures are being taken to combat a disease that has cost at least 120 lives since it broke out in the southernmost Ungasan area in late 2008.

Readers are rightly indignant that a project launched last September by the Ubud-based Bali Animal Welfare Association, a grouping for foreigners resident in Bali finically backed by overseas animal organisations, in conjunction with the Bali authorities – namely the Animal Husbandry Department – appears to be nowhere in sight.

The experiment aims to vaccinate 70 percent of the island’s hundreds of thousands of feral dogs, and mark them with collars and paint (for juveniles) as a sign they have been jabbed. Yet many people report no vaccination teams in their areas, no street dogs bearing markers of inoculation and continuing bites from the hordes of wandering canines.

We hope that the solid action our photographer shot in Denpasar this week will be swiftly replicated in every village in Bali. We are not optimistic, however, that this method alone is sufficient to rid the scourge of rabies from the island. As we have argued many times, there are simply far too many stray dogs – around 560,000 of them, according to government estimates – to warrant success in an eradication programme based solely on vaccinating. The wandering population needs to be drastically scaled back.  

That aside, many people want the streets cleared of these itinerant creatures for a different reason: They are a visual pollutant for which no one, it seems, wants to accept responsibility. (They are also a real risk to motorists.) It therefore must be incumbent upon the tourism-reliant authorities to capture all stray dogs and carry out a culling programme if the dogs are not claimed. Many are owned by Balinese who blithely allow them to ramble outside of their homes. That cannot be allowed to continue.

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