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Bhutan aims to eliminate rabies by 2025

A veterinary officer treating a dog at the National Animal Hospital.

To assess the country’s rabies control program using a stepwise approach toward rabies elimination and develop a strategic plan of action to make Bhutan rabies free by 2025, a consultation meeting was held from September 27-29 with participants from livestock and health departments.

Bhutan also joined the rest of the world to observe the 11th World Rabies Day with the theme “Zero human deaths from canine rabies by 2030” on Thursday.

The National Rabies Week will continue till October 3.

According to an official from Regional Livestock Development Center, Tsimasham in Chukha, Tshering Doma, rabies is a fatal and neglected zoonotic disease.  “It is preventable but not curable.”

According to the National Center for Animal Health, an annual average of 17 outbreaks has been occurring in animals, mostly in southern parts of the country.

In the past two years, an outbreak was reported in Orong, Samdrup Jongkhar (2015-16) and in Trashigang under Merak, Sakteng, Radi, Shongphu, Bidung and Samkhar. Another outbreak was reported in Ngangla, Zhemgang in September 2017.

Tshering Doma said that such outbreaks result in huge economic losses to farmers and the government in terms of death of farm animals, containment cost and post exposure treatment cost in human.

Nevertheless, Bhutan has been able to achieve substantial reduction of human rabies deaths over the years with only two deaths reported in 2012-17 through implementation of various strategies from health and livestock sectors.

According to records, the nation-wide dog population and rabies control programs by neutering and vaccinating dogs have proved a huge success, helping people to understand rabies and its risks while also attracting support from them and stakeholders during outbreaks. Considering the rabies risk, livestock officials encourage people to register pet animals and vaccinate them against rabies in the nearest livestock office, report rabies outbreak and not feed food wastes to stray animals.

To mark the day, a series of awareness programs were held to educate the public, students and communities in the rabies endemic areas. A presentation highlighting the importance of rabies including its control and preventive measures was also shared to the students.

According to the Annual National Dog Population Management (NDPM) and Rabies Control Project (RCP) report 2016, sterilization and vaccination coverage in Thimphu, increased from 46% in June 2009 to 68% in September 2016.

A total of 60,993 dogs were sterilized and vaccinated across the country by the end of second phase including the pilot project carried out from February to June 2009, covering 2,846 dogs.

The report states that the first phase between September 2009 and June 2012 covered the sterilization and vaccination of 34,141 dogs. The second phase from July 2012 to July 2015 covered 24,006 dogs. Currently, NDPM and RCP, is in its third phase, which is from 2015 to June 2018.

Pema Seldon from Thimphu

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