As Bali’s rabies emergency spirals even further out of control, it has become blindingly obvious that there is no one in leadership positions with either the capability or will to do anything about it.
The human death toll since the outbreak began in southern Bali in 2008 may now be as high as 60, but the official count is at 42.
Foreign governments have warned their citizens of the health risks of visiting rabies-infected Bali, and the story is being featured in international media outlets. The bottom line is that this growing threat may be as fatal to Bali’s tourism industry, which comprises most of the island’s economy, as the deadly virus is proving to people here.
We have said before that animal-welfare activists’ view that combating the outbreak solely by vaccinating strays is not the answer to the critical issue: ridding Bali of rabies. Such people point to overseas successes and expert opinion and studies, but fail to take into account the massive stray dog population in Bali or the fact that many family “pets” are in fact left free to roam and are often also left hungry.
The real solution must be three-fold: first, an effective and island-wide culling of strays; second, a publicly funded and ongoing repeat vaccination programme for registered dogs (and a registry to ensure this works); and third, a public education campaign, best done at banjar level, to ensure people look after their pets and working dogs.
Without these measures, especially the harsh first priority, the rabies virus will continue to incubate and kill. But up to now, stabs at culling have been half-hearted and an evening drive along almost any street sees dozens of stray dogs roaming about, posing a direct threat to human health.
New dog-catching vehicles are being operated by the authorities. What they are doing, though, is anyone’s guess, because there is no immediate visible reduction – far less outright clearance – of this grave threat on our streets.
The ongoing imbroglio over vaccines for dog-bite victims – who can number close to 100 every day and, in our present situation, must be assumed to be at risk of contracting rabies – will cease when there is nothing left to bite people.