29/11/2023 11:13 AM

By Mohamad Syazwan Mustafa

KUCHING,  Nov 29 (Bernama) -- Efforts to eradicate the rabies outbreak, and promote awareness about rabies elimination in Southeast Asia to support STOP Rabies, are among the main focuses highlighted in the white paper launched by Boehringer Ingelheim, at the Federation of Asian Veterinary Associations (FAVA) Congress 2023, in Kuching, Sarawak, on Nov 4.

The white paper, titled 'Moving Towards A Rabies-Free Southeast Asia’ which was developed by Boehringer Ingelheim in collaboration with Eco-Business, is to explore strategic approaches to realising the ‘Zero by 30’ global strategic goal, to end dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030.

Boehringer Ingelheim regional technical manager for companion animals for ASEAN, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, Dr Tan Do Yew, said that the white paper highlights country-specific challenges and expert solutions, to operationalise the collaborative approach to preventing rabies, specifically in Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand.

“Despite existing efforts in the region, Southeast Asia remains a rabies hotspot, with millions of people at potential risk of rabies exposure, making the region a major vector for the disease, escalating in areas where rabies has not previously been reported, including Malaysia. This affirms the need for collaboration across sectors and borders, to help the region advance.

“In Malaysia, key recommendations to mitigate the spread of rabies include strengthening cross-border collaboration, implementing enhanced stray management, and promoting responsible pet ownership to effectively mitigate rabies risks,” he said to Bernama.

According to Sarawak's health department, a total of 15 rabies cases, involving 13 deaths, were recorded this year as of August, and the cumulative total of human rabies cases now stands at 70, with 63 deaths recorded since 2017.

Dr Tan said that some of the factors contributing to the uptake of rabies infections identified across Southeast Asia, including Sarawak, were a large population of free-roaming unvaccinated dogs, low vaccination rates among pets and stray animals, limited resources and access to animal vaccines, and cross-border rabies transmission.

“Thus, education and awareness programmes are crucial, to ensure that the public is fully aware of this disease, and the importance of pet vaccination. We (Boehringer Ingelheim) are also committed to increasing such awareness programmes to encourage prevention, vaccinations and surveillance to slow down the spread of rabies,” he said.

The white paper, along with the gathering of stakeholders at the FAVA Congress 2023, strengthens Boehringer Ingelheim's ongoing efforts of the STOP Rabies programme to eliminate rabies, which are already taking place in Southeast Asia and globally, he added.

Meanwhile, head of animal health of Boehringer Ingelheim Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, Dr Kam Kok Yen, said that Boehringer Ingelheim in Malaysia has collaborated with local government, health authorities and non-government organisations to drive the STOP Rabies program.

“For this year alone, we have provided vaccinations to 450 dogs and cats in the Kuching division of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA Selangor), as well as educating 350 students from various schools around Serian, Sarawak on rabies and dog bite prevention.

“As dog bites cause almost all human cases, vaccinating dogs is the most effective way to protect humans. Currently, we are progressing towards realising the World Health Organization's (WHO) 'Zero by 30' goal, which is to reduce the rate of dog-mediated human rabies deaths to zero by 2030,” he said.

The STOP Rabies programme focuses on three key pillars, namely vaccination, education and surveillance, which emphasise providing quality vaccines, aligning best practices in Boehringer Ingelheim in dog vaccination campaigns, building greater awareness of rabies in communities, and monitoring rabies-related cases and data.

The STOP rabies symposium at the FAVA Congress 2023, hosted by Boehringer Ingelheim, provides a platform for industry experts to discuss various issues, initiatives, and key recommendations, to unlock a rabies-free future for SEA.

The panellists involved in the discussion session were GARC director of programmes Dr Terence Scott, Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Department for Veterinary Pathology and Microbiology head Dr Farina Mustaffa Kamal, as well as Boehringer Ingelheim's Dr Jerlyn K. Sponseller and Dr Tan.


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