Bali’s rising death toll from rabies shows that this spiralling health crisis is nowhere near an end and will continue to eat into the human population until the vast numbers of stray dogs are eliminated.
At least three more people died this week from the disease, which is invariably fatal once symptoms appear, and which in Bali up to now has only been provably transmitted through dog-bite saliva, although it is possible that other warm-blooded mammals, such as cats, bats and monkeys, can also be vectors. Human deaths are rising towards 60, with increasing frequency, since rabies emerged in the southern Ungasan area in 2008 and was – too late, and after several deaths of people from symptoms readily identifiable as rabies to anyone with a medical dictionary, let alone a medical degree – officially confirmed as present in the November of that year.
Here, there are fierce critics of government attempts to exterminate the hordes of stray dogs that continue to roam our neighbourhoods and streets, some of them biting residents at will. Health authorities say that in little over one year, 44,000 people have received rabies vaccinations after being bitten by strays, a frightening figure – and all the more so given that dogs living wild continue to thrive right across the island.
Animal lovers, many of them expatriates living here, say culling of dogs is cruel and does not work anyway, if the aim is to rid the island of rabies. They point to foreign studies that show this. But here are the added facts that distort a supposed case-book study:
1. The sheer numbers of stray (and actually wild) dogs in Bali have made them uncontrollable, especially given the Balinese approach to life: lackadaisical care of allegedly “pet” animals and the compensation culture (“You kill my dog, you pay me enough to get a new one”).
2. Simply sterilising wild dogs – as culling critics advocate – and waiting for generations to die out would not for a long while protect the human population from more attacks and inevitable deaths.
3. The government has outlawed stray dogs.
For their part, the Balinese point to dogs, wild or not, as a protector of mankind with religious undertones. There exists a Hindu belief that bad-karma souls are reincarnated as dogs, and in that life must prove themselves as worthy guards, and therefore must not be harmed. That’s fine, but not at the
Rabies is a terrible way to die. It is a disease that cannot be cured. It can only be prevented and Bali must be rid of it – soon. Otherwise this predicament will roll on until it strikes the tourism sector and people stay away. Several foreign governments have already warned their citizens of the risk of rabies in Bali.
It is therefore the duty of both the authorities and every person living here to ensure that the stray dog population – which thus far is the sole identified carrier of the virus – is swiftly wiped out.
As one reader’s comment on our feedback line put it this week: “Enough is enough. It is time to cull all stray dogs. It is absolute nonsense to have this continue.”