09 September 2016 - Flores and Lembata Islands of East Nusa Tenggara Province in Indonesia have proven that dog vaccination not only provides a solution for effective and humane control of rabies, but also helps restore the social, cultural and economic value of dogs in the community. This is one of the highlights of a project recently completed by the Government of Indonesia and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with financial support from World Animal Protection.
The rabies control project, implemented in Flores and Lembata Islands starting in September 2013, has seen around 410,000 dogs vaccinated in 2014 and 2015 in more than 1,300 villages. Since the start of the project, the number of rabies cases had dropped substantially by mid-2016. In addition, more than 300 animal health officers (veterinarians and paraveterinarians) were trained in rabies control competencies. Five animal health laboratories in Flores also received capacity enhancement support, allowing them to provide effective and efficient diagnostic services to support rabies eradication activities. These accomplishments were revealed during the Workshop on Evaluation and Sustainability of the Rabies Control Programme in Flores and Lembata Islands, held in Labuan Bajo, Flores, on 30-31 August 2016.
"Enhancing the capacity of animal health personnel and laboratories in the implementation of rabies control and eradication in Flores and Lembata is very important in the effort to control the disease in these areas," said Drh. I Ketut Diarmita, MP., Director of Animal Health, Directorate General of Livestock and Animal Health at Indonesia’s Ministry of Agriculture. "With competent animal health personnel, it has been proven that mass dog vaccination in Flores and Lembata can really control rabies," he continued.
The first dog rabies case in Flores was reported in Larantuka in East Flores district in 1997, with the first human rabies fatality occurring in March 1998. The outbreak was a severe blow to the local community, as dogs are regarded as a valuable asset – socially, culturally, and economically. Dogs play a number of important roles in East Nusa Tenggara societies; they are used for protection of homes, other properties, farms and crops. They also play an important role in local cultural and ceremonial events. Families may also keep dogs as pets and consider them as part of their social status. During project implementation, efforts to control rabies in Flores experienced some challenges, such as the shortage of vaccinators, the large extent of the area, and the control strategy that was lacking in focus.
To optimise the effort to control and eradicate rabies, the Directorate General of Livestock and Animal Health Services (DGLAHS) at the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO Indonesia and East Nusa Tenggara local government administrations collaborated to control rabies using a humane approach, with mass dog vaccination being prioritised as the main strategy to reduce rabies cases in animals. This collaboration was fully supported by World Animal Protection.
“Flores is a great example of how local religious leaders can raise awareness and mobilise the community to participate in efforts to control rabies,” said Dr. James McGrane, Team Leader of FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Indonesia. “Lessons learned here can be used in other areas of Indonesia to fine tune and focus rabies control programmes, and will also contribute to the development of a global framework, currently being finalised, for the progressive control and elimination of rabies,” he added.
Since 2014, a National Strategy and Roadmap for Rabies Control and Eradication in Indonesia has also been jointly developed by the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO and World Animal Protection. The Roadmap, which promotes an effective and humane approach, focusing on mass vaccination of dogs against rabies, is currently being finalised.
“For three years, we have been building an understanding on how vaccinating dogs is the most effective way to control rabies, both in dogs and in humans,” said Joanna Tuckwell, Campaign Manager, Asia-Pacific, for World Animal Protection. “Our hope now is that vaccination against rabies, coupled with humane dog population management, and educating local people on responsible ownership, will continue to be supported across Indonesia - so dogs and people can live in harmony, and Indonesia will ultimately achieve its goal to be rabies-free.”