Yet again the past 12 months have given an opportunity for the authorities on this island to correct the difficulties we face, some of them claiming large numbers of lives. And yet again, as this year draws to a close, things are as bad as they were when 2010 dawned.
Lethal incompetence prevails in the battle against rabies, which has now taken the lives of well over 100 people since it was detected just over two years ago in southern areas of Bali. We had thought that this most urgent human health crisis could finally be adequately dealt with this year so that the virus was curbed by controlling the incongruous number of stray dogs roaming the streets. How wrong we were.
The local government capitulated to foreign animal welfare activists who objected to the official cull of dogs. They said it was not working. They were right: The government’s elimination programme of stray dogs – estimated at well over half a million of them – was sporadic and ineffective when it should have been a concerted campaign to rid the island of every possible feral canine.
The government threw up its arms, resigned itself and declared that the prevailing Hindu belief that dogs are man’s protector on Earth and lead people to Heaven could not be overcome in the rabies fight: that strays would have to be left, well, stray, even if they are a vast reservoir of the rabies virus that is killing people. It is newly reported that the disease has spread to another 46 villages in the past six months.
If you are bitten by a rabid animal – the usual vector is dogs – and do not have the full post-exposure vaccination course you may be exposed to the rabies virus, which spreads through muscle and skin tissue and eventually attacks the central nervous system. Once symptoms appear it is invariably fatal, and in an agonising, literally maddening way. That 113 Balinese are now listed as dead of rabies – the actual toll could be higher – over the past two years, as the authorities dillydally, is not only a human tragedy but criminal.
And so our fates were left in the hands of the foreign animal lovers, who launched a vaccination-only programme on September 28 this year, World Rabies Day. We were told all manner of things after that, and presented with an array of differing and bizarre vaccination figures. Shortly after the scheme was launched we were told by the government’s man in charge that almost all the targeted 75 percent of stray dogs on the island had been jabbed. That was nonsense and quickly retracted.
We were also told that inoculated strays would carry an identifying collar and that young dogs would have a spot of paint on them, so that follow-up injections over a two-year period could be administered. Our staff and reporters and our readers around the island have yet to see any evidence of such marking.
As we bid farewell to 2010 and prepare to welcome in 2011, amid all the problems besetting our beautiful island – poverty, overcrowding, infrastructure, corruption, pollution – let us pray that at the end of another 12 months were are not mourning an extension of the human catastrophe currently upon us. But let us do more than just leave it up to God: Let’s take real action, eliminate every stray dog that can be found and get the Balinese to persuade themselves that they must take care of their own dogs, for which they are responsible.