Rabies poses health risk in Thailand | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 03.05.2018
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Rabies poses health risk in Thailand

Rabies has once again raised its head in Thailand, killing many people in the country since last year. The government launched a campaign to deal with the issue, but it's proving to be difficult to eradicate the disease.

Each day dozens of street dogs are brought to Bangkok's Lat Krabang animal quarantine center, where the veterinarians sterilize them and vaccinate them against rabies.

The Thai government has launched a campaign to vaccinate dogs and cats as deadly rabies disease has claimed at least 8 lives since the start of this year. Last year, at least 14 people died as a result of the virus, spreading fear that the Southeast Asian country could see a massive outbreak of rabies.

The government recently announced it plans to eradicate rabies by 2020. So far, about 45 percent of the country's estimated 10 million dogs and cats have been vaccinated as part of the drive.

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Difficult to control

At Lat Krabang, a group of vets and nurses anesthetizes dogs and vaccinates them. The process takes only less than a minute and is painless for the animals.

A veterinarian at the center, who wishes not to be named as he's not authorized to speak to the media, told DW that most dogs at the shelter are picked up from the streets. "We bring the dogs here when we receive complaints from the people. We sterilize them and vaccinate them against rabies. If the dog doesn't have an owner, we send it to our shelter in Uthai Thani."

The vet says that dog and cat owners should take better care of their pets to avoid the risk of their getting rabies. "Many people let their dogs roam around the streets. It is usually the case that we can't find the dog's owner when we receive a complaint. If you have a dog, keep it indoors or keep it on a leash," he said.

Rabies is not a new occurrence in the Southeast Asian country. In 1980, the viral disease killed some 370 people in Thailand. Subsequently, the government launched a campaign to control the spread of the disease but could not eradicate it.

Health experts blame the government's procedures for the failure to put an end to rabies. Last week, a local newspaper reported that five officials from the Department of Livestock Development were being investigated over irregularities with rabies vaccinations. It is alleged that in 2016 they bought up to 1 million doses of vaccines that didn't have proper certifications. This could mean that a large number of pets haven't been properly vaccinated or haven't received vaccinations at all.

But John Dalley, the founder of Soi Dog animal welfare center in Phuket, believes rabies can be eradicated easily. "It will cost some money, but the World Health Organization has a functional program to curb the disease. If you vaccinate 70 percent of dogs, you have basically eradicated rabies," Dalley told DW.

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Better treatment of animals

In some cases, Thai authorities have resorted to drastic measures to deal with the issue. In January, over 100 pet dogs and cats were killed in a village in Chiang Rai after rabies was found in eight dogs. Officials forced villagers to hand over their pets, after which they were put to death.

Dalley says killing dogs and cats won't make Thailand rabies-free. "Also, the government thinks that picking up street dogs and putting them in shelters will solve the problem, but it won't."

Dog killings have also angered animal rights activists and conservative Buddhists, for whom killing an animal is a sin.

At Wat Suan Kaw, a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, monk Prayom Kullayano calls for a merciful approach toward pets and other animals.

"Selfish people abandon their pets. We have to be merciful and responsible," Kullayano said.

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