Following an announcement by the health authorities that 101 people — all Balinese — had now died of rabies in the past two years, news was uncovered by The Bali Times that in the past three weeks (since World Rabies Day on September 28) some sort of miracle vaccination of the hundreds of thousands of stray dogs responsible for the crisis has been completed, except in two villages in Tabanan where it was all but completed.
Overseas readers of this newspaper continue to write on our website saying they are astonished at what is happening here (as do readers living on the island). Some overseas readers are considering cancelling their holidays in Bali, while others said they have already done so. While they might accept that rabies can break out anywhere, they object to the way in which the health emergency is being dealt with.
They do not oppose culling. To the contrary: they insist it should be carried out, properly. What this rising number of would-be Bali holidaymakers — the people that generate Bali’s main industry, tourism — cannot accept is the continuing (monumental) ineptitude in managing the outbreak.
There has been a cull of stray dogs, of which there are believed to be some 560,000. But the eradication scheme was a show for the cameras. Most areas of Bali were left untouched, as residents have been confirming.
Now, inexplicably, the rabies-elimination task has been handed over to foreigners, on the island and off it, in Britain. These are animal activists who had been lambasting the government over its cull, demanding that a “humane” approach be adopted: vaccination of strays. Studies by animal organisations were produced to back up their theory that killing dogs doesn’t work but that inoculation does.
From the outset we have been wary of this arrangement. We were pessimistic because:
• A great many people have died
• It appears deaths will continue
• The human stakes are too high to make rabies eradication an experiment
• Removing all strays from the streets — not an impossible task if every banjar (local community) on the island is engaged – immediately eliminates the main rabies vector
• Waiting the projected two years for Bali to be rabies-free would further damage its tourist trade (currently there are foreign-government warnings over rabies here)
• Stray dogs are a menace that tarnish Bali
On World Rabies Day, the Bali Animal Welfare Association, which is carrying out the dog-vaccination programme with funding from the World Society for the Protection of Animals and added manpower from various government departments, staged a photo-opportunity at Candi Dasa. At that picturesque town on the east coast of Bali the first of 400,000 stray dogs — 70 percent of the feral population, which it is projected is sufficient to break the viral transmission link — were injected with rabies vaccine and the programme was under way.
In the three weeks since, we have watched for vaccination teams doing their work around the island and tagging injected adult dogs with collars and daubing juveniles with paint, so that they can later be identified and administered booster shots.
No evidence of such activity has been seen, however.
Yet this week the head of the Animal Husbandry Department in Bali, Putu Sumantra, who BAWA said was answering all media queries concerning rabies, told this newspaper that apart from two villages in Tabanan, the vaccination job was done. (This was later called into question by those doing the vaccinating.)
When our reporter conveyed this information to BAWA chief Janice Girardi he was met with stunned disbelief followed by refusal to make further comment.
We are equally shocked. It is obvious that 400,000 dogs in Bali have not been vaccinated. The experiment, as we predicted, has fast-decayed into a sham. What is most shocking is that the sham is one for which the people of Bali will pay with their lives.