A campaign to vaccinate nearly 400,000 dogs in Bali against rabies is under way in the latest bid to eradicate the disease as a threat to the island and its tourism business by 2012.
The death toll since the virus was first identified in Bali in late 2008 — following a series of unexplained deaths in the Ungasan area of the Bukit earlier that year — now stands at 93, according to provincial health officials.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is running the mass vaccination programme in conjunction with the locally based Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) and the provincial government.
Early in September Governor I Made Mangku Pastika announced that culling more than 560,000 stray dogs on the island was the only way to stop rabies. Then mid-month he signed up to the vaccination campaign, which is being funded by the American-based WSPA.
Australia has donated 370,000 doses of the dog rabies vaccine.
BAWA is run by American jeweller Janice Girardi from her Bali base in Ubud. The organisation has staged pilot vaccination programmes in Gianyar and Bangli that it says have successfully shown vaccination works. There have been no human rabies fatalities in either regency since the programmes.
BAWA staged a public awareness and dog-vaccination day in Karangasem, near Padang Bai, on World Rabies Day last Tuesday. It is using a French one-shot vaccine, Rabisin, which has a three-year protection level, but BAWA is treating it as a one-year vaccine.
Girardi told The Bali Times that BAWA teams working with banjars (communities) would paint or fit collars to vaccinated dogs to keep track of them.
“We put a collar on the dogs. If the dog is under one year and growing, we spray paint it, with an oil-based livestock-marking paint as advised by the Australian government. We catch all the dogs in the banjar, and we have survey teams who record the dogs they see with collars and paint.
“If we’ve achieved 70 percent coverage, we go to the next village. Thirty percent may get rabies, but it’s not enough to continue an epidemic.”
The WSPA’s chief executive officer, Mike Barker, said in a statement issued from the US this week: “Rabies remains a threat to both human and animal populations [around the world] and still kills 55,000 people annually.
“Bali’s multi-stakeholder approach will prove once again that the only effective solution to the rabies problem is one that combines compassion with scientific knowledge.”
He said the vaccination agreement would save the lives of tens of thousands of dogs in Bali and “create a historic reference in the global fight against rabies.”
Bali animal husbandry agency chief Putu Sumantra said it would take up to four months to carry out the vaccinations.
Girardi said she projected Bali would be rabies-free in two year.
“By the end of 2012 – that’s the goal that everyone has. We’re pretty sure we’re not going to get rid of it the first time round (after first annual vaccinations). If we’re very lucky we’ll get it second time round.”