| by Champa Fernando
(Kandy Association for Community Protection through Animal Welfare)
( January 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) From time to time, we see in the media Health Ministry officials being quoted that rabies has increased. If certain data is taken in isolation, the picture with regard to rabies can be made to look rather ominous.
We studied the Rabies Statistical Bulletin of 2010 of the Ministry of Health and actually it shows a significant decrease in five key areas as shown in the following table:
It is significant that these reductions were achieved by humane methods without killing or removing any dog.
In order to obtain further desirable and significant results in the above five areas and increase financial savings we propose the following:
1. Human deaths owing to rabies: Awareness is needed. Human deaths can be avoided if people are educated to get the rabies prophylaxis if bitten by an unknown/unvaccinated dog. A study should be made about the circumstances that led to the 49 deaths in 2010 in order to address specific shortcomings.
2. Human rabies vaccine: Two-pronged awareness is needed to reduce the highest cost incurred in the rabies eradication programme:
i. People should be made aware to retain their dog vaccination records as well as their own rabies prophylaxis records so that the doctors could safely decide whether to administer the rabies vaccines to a particular dog-bite victim.
ii. Several studies have shown that a higher percentage of dog bites are from owned dogs. So there is a clear need to educate the public/dog owners about dog behaviour and handling.
3. Dog rabies vaccination: Increase female dog sterilizations across the country to reduce the dog population cost-effectively so that each year a lesser number of dogs needs to be vaccinated and the cycle of the emergence of pups in public places will be arrested. A very few of these pups survive and get added onto to the ownerless dog population numbers, while form the other end, many ownerless adult dogs also do not live for more than two years as they succumb to accidents and diseases.
4. Animal birth control: This needs to be done systematically and equitably sterilizing the relatively smaller number of owned female dog population across the country simultaneously. It is these owned female dogs that contribute to the ownerless dog population as it is their pups that get dumped in public places. Our opinion is that the sterilization programme was not done effectively and systematically in order to obtain cost-efficient sustainable results. We propose an initial two-year contractual recruitment of veterinarians to conduct this work replacing the current payment scheme per dog, which led to financial malpractices and issues on animal welfare.
5. Dog rabies: This figure will automatically go down if a higher percentage of dogs is vaccinated. If the dog population is decreased to sustainable levels via sterilizations, the practical aspect of vaccinating a higher percentage of dogs is enhanced and becomes achievable and vaccinating a higher percentage of dogs is extremely important in rabies control/eradication according to the WHO. A 2009//2010 study by Gunewardena, GSP de S et al. recommends that pups under 3 months of age should also be vaccinated owing to the inadequacy of the maternal antibody levels to protect the pups from rabies. The study further recommends a booster vaccination at 3 months of age to increase the pups’ RVNA (rabies virus neutralizing antibody) titres.
As for certain hospitals being overcrowded with stray dogs as mentioned by the Minister of Health recently, if dog feeding zones cannot be established as has been done in some Colombo Municipal Council areas, may we suggest that the food sources for the dogs are made inaccessible to the dogs at such hospitals. Sometimes since the food is available, nearby owned dogs also venture into the hospital to eat and then it looks as if there is a large stray dog population at the hospital.
The number of dogs in a particular area is determined by the availability of food. This is why removal of dogs does not work, as the slots made available by such removal is quickly filled up by new dogs to match the same number as before, unless of course the dog population growth and the maintenance of the cyclic emergence of dogs is permanently arrested by systematic countrywide sterilization.
To make sterilisation cost-effective and results oriented we believe that only owned female dogs (which is happening) and clinically healthy ownerless female dogs (over 5 months of age) should be sterilized; the owned female dog population is around 15-25 or so in any particular village.
Most ownerless pups do not reach reproduction age owing to various handicaps they have to face both clinically, physiologically and environmentally. So we believe it is a waste of funds to sterilize ownerless pups less than 5 months of age. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital run by the Clinical Department of the Vet Faculty of the University of Peradeniya sterilizes only pups over 5 months and also only if they are clinically healthy. Instead all stray pups as young as they may be should be vaccinated against rabies as Gunewardena, GSP de S et al.’s study has pointed out.