THE past week has provided a stark reminder that the rabies outbreak in Sarawak is by no means over.
On Wednesday the Health Ministry announced that a 12th victim died from rabies since the outbreak began in June last year.
The latest victim was a 44-year-old man from Jalan Matang in Kuching who reportedly did not get bitten by a dog, but hit a stray dog which bit his wife on Jan 13.
The ministry’s director-general said the man had an open wound on his right hand at the time. He did not seek treatment although he brought his wife to the hospital to be treated and vaccinated.
He died on Tuesday morning at the Sarawak General Hospital where he was admitted on Aug 16 after showing symptoms of rabies. His wife is reported to be healthy after completing four doses of anti-rabies vaccination.
The latest fatality came just three days after another victim, a 49-year-old farmer from Sri Aman, succumbed to the disease. The farmer had been bitten by his dog in January and did not seek treatment. He was admitted to SGH on Aug 14 after developing symptoms and died on Aug 18.
On Thursday the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee declared three more rabies-infected areas in the state. The new areas are Sungai Tenggang and Pantu in Sri Aman and Simpang Kawasan Layar in Betong.
This brings the total to 36 areas and makes Betong the sixth division to have a rabies-infected area. The others are Serian, Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman and Sarikei.
Also on Thursday, the Chief Minister said the state government would mobilise its resources to contain the rabies situation and use its money first as decisions from the Federal Government were apparently not fast enough.
“We cannot delay as it is very important. The state will do it while at the same time we will negotiate with the Federal Government,” he was reported as saying. It’s right and proper for the state government to take this seriously and to work with the Federal Government to tackle the situation.
But there needs to be greater urgency in the response from the state and Federal governments, the relevant authorities and the public to control and prevent rabies from spreading further.
As Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii pointed out, the authorities can be more upfront about the situation to convey a sense of urgency not only to the personnel involved but also the public.
“I understand the need to keep public order, or the need to not cause panic, but it is also the right of the people to know the extent of the infection so they can take the necessary precautions with urgency,” he said in a statement.
Without a proper sense of urgency, he said, people might forget the seriousness of the outbreak and neglect to take precautions such as bringing their pets for vaccination.
He called for constant education on washing wounds and seeking treatment after bites, while measures to vaccinate dogs and control their population must go on.
“There has to be more stress that the fight against rabies is an ongoing process. We all play a part in curbing this outbreak,” he said.
Yii recently raised an emergency motion in Parliament to debate the rabies outbreak, during which the Federal Government said it would allocate a RM3mil emergency fund as well as funds to upgrade lab facilities in Sarawak so that samples do not need to be sent to Ipoh for testing.
While the federal and state governments can look into better collaboration and quicker action in handling the situation, the public also needs to do their part and remain vigilant.
We don’t want to reach a state of panic but nor should we be complacent or equivocal about the situation. Rather than pointing fingers or seeking to cast blame, we should all keep working together to curb the outbreak and prevent further loss of life.
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