Stamp out rabies

Asian experts gather in Manila to talk about rabies control programs

By HENRYLITO D. TACIO

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) says that reliable data on rabies are scarce in many parts of the world, making it difficult to assess its full impact on human and animal health.

However, in the Philippines, about 300 to 600 Filipinos die of rabies each year, according to the Department of Health (DOH). At least 50 percent of the victims are children aged five to 14 years.

The health department laments that rabies remains a public health problem in the country despite the enactment of Republic Act 9482, otherwise known as the Rabies Act of 2007 which seeks to eradicate rabies in the Philippines by 2020.

“The rabies virus is present in the saliva of infected animals,” the United Nations health agency informs. An animal with rabies transmits the infection to other animals or humans by biting and sometimes even by just licking.

“The bite of any rabid animal is not the cause of the spread and infection of rabies,” corrects Dr. Silvius Jude B. Alon, a veterinarian who used to work with a Davao based non-government organization.

“It is the saliva of the affected animal. The bite is just an instrument so that the saliva with rabies virus can be transferred to any victim.”

Unknowingly, many different animals can transmit rabies to people. “The vampire bats are the primary carriers of the rabies virus. The dogs and cats are the common animals affected by rabies because they serve as the reservoir of rabies disease,” Dr. Alon explains. The cattle, carabaos, goats, and sheep may also be affected by rabies.

Rabies is one of most deadly diseases in the world; it affects both humans and animals. During the 10th annual meeting of Asian Rabies Expert Bureau (AREB) held in Manila recently, rabies experts acknowledged progress in rabies control in Asia.

Although participating countries to the AREB meeting have already established policies to control rabies, they are still facing the problem of translating these policies into practice. Among the major challenges identified were logistics, socio-cultural factors, and resources.

In the said meeting, several rabies control programs were highlighted, including dog vaccination campaigns and treatment of bite victims through post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). While some countries only have Animal Bite Treatment Centers (ABTCs) in major cities, close proximity to ABTC was identified by AREB members as key to saving lives.

In the Philippines, access to PEP significantly improved with the systematic establishment of additional ABTCs. From 257 centers before the Anti-Rabies Act of 2007, the figure now has almaost doubled to 410 today. The goal, however, is to reach 1000 centers by the end of 2016.

Early this year, the health department sets its eyes on stamping out rabies as a major health threat by vaccinating around 10 million dogs against the dreaded disease.

According to Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag, the department is now coordinating with the agriculture department to carry out the vaccination drive, which is expected to end by 2015.

“This is part of our campaign to make the country rabies-free…it is estimated that for every 10 Filipinos, there is a dog, which makes their numbers roughly at around 10 million. That is our target,” Asec. Tayag was quoted as saying.

The vaccination drive against rabies is part of the government’s measure to speed up the country’s compliance with the United Nations health agency to eliminate human rabies transmitted by dogs in Southeast Asia by 2020.

“Prevention of human rabies must be a community effort involving both veterinary and public health officials,” the WHO pointed out.

VitalSigns Issue 61 Vol. 3, March 1-31, 2014