26 September 2011 - Dogs have always been an integral part of Balinese culture and the island has been historically free of rabies, so the sudden introduction of rabies in 2008 caused panic and much suffering to the people of Bali. The virus spread rapidly throughout the island, killing thousands of dogs and about 132 humans to date.
Since May 2011, the provincial and local governments of Bali, in coordination with the Directorate General of Livestock and Animal Health Services, Ministry of Agriculture, have been carrying out an island-wide dog vaccination campaign in order to achieve 70 percent vaccination coverage of the dog population and thereby break transmission of the virus.
The campaign, co-funded by the Government of Indonesia, AusAID, USAID, and FAO, builds on the successful first mass vaccination campaign funded by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and implemented by the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), in cooperation with Indonesian government agencies.
The vaccination campaigns have dramatically cut the incidence of rabies, with cases in humans decreasing by 68 percent so far in 2011 compared to 2010. With continued commitment from the Government of Indonesia and the communities of Bali, it is possible that the mystical island of Bali can once more be free of rabies.
Intensive planning and resource mobilization for the second round of vaccination began in February 2011 with technical support and facilitation provided by FAO.
Over 700 government staff received training and equipment for vaccination, post vaccination surveillance, and rapid response and communication. The first districts commenced vaccination on schedule at the end of May with the goal of finishing by October.
The remaining districts started vaccinating in June, and by the end of September vaccination targets have been successfully met in all but one district, with over 230,000 dogs vaccinated so far.
The people of Bali and tourists alike have been made aware of the campaign through school education programs, community meetings, as well as radio and TV announcements.
The success of the second round of vaccination has been striking both in terms of vaccination coverage, reduction in disease, and the significant increase in community awareness regarding the dangers of rabies and the value of vaccinating dogs.
Dog owners across the island have willingly brought their dogs to be vaccinated and they are aware of what to do if someone is bitten by a dog. The panic that marked the early days of the rabies outbreak has finally subsided and the value of responsible dog ownership is being promoted.
Great efforts have also been made to improve cooperation between human and animal health services to ensure that people who are bitten are treated correctly, and suspect animal cases are promptly investigated and tested if necessary. Such hand-in-hand cooperation between human and animal doctors is at the heart of the “One Health” approach.
With continued effective vaccination, the possibility of freeing Bali from rabies becomes a realistic goal. Success here would provide the opportunity for the Bali model to be used in other parts of Indonesia suffering from rabies.
Bali is internationally known for its magnificent Hindu culture and beautiful beaches, but within the public health community this great island may one day be known also as the birthplace of a more effective model for the sustainable control of rabies.
FAO of the UN is an institutional partner of World Veterinary Year (Vet2011) and has recently adopted a resolution declaring Global Freedom from Rinderpest.