By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives has approved a high P500 million allocation for the National Rabies Prevention and Control Program but its bid to put the country in the list of rabies-free nations has been moved by another two years.
The Bureau of Animal Industry had previously aired the optimism that the Philippines is set to achieve the ASEAN target of becoming a rabies-free country by 2020.
However, the Department of Health is eyeing 2022 as the year that the Philippines will be rabies-free. Elimination of human deaths from rabies may be expected next year, according to Anakalusugan Partylist Rep. Michael Defensor.
“The extra funding for the program is meant to enable the country to finally eradicate rabies,” Defensor, vice-chairman of the House health committee, said during the observance of the World Rabies Day Saturday.
Defensor, a former Quezon City congressman, disclosed that the P500 million anti-rabies campaign budget is provided in the 2020 allocation for the DOH, as indicated in the Lower House version of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill.
However, the DOH has aired concern over the global shortage of human rabies vaccine that was reported early this year.
Officials said the anti-rabies vaccine shortage is not expected to normalize until the end of 2019.
As of 2018, the number of “rabies-free areas” in the country had reached 62, up from 49 in 2017, the DOH said in a report submitted to Congress.
Though not a leading cause of mortality in the country, rabies still kills some 300 Filipinos every year, according to the DOH.
The viral disease is transmitted from animals (mainly dogs) to people. It is spread to humans through close contact with the infected dog’s saliva via bites or scratches.
Rabies is 100 percent fatal and yet 100 percent preventable with vaccination in animals and people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
A recent rabies death was reported in May 2019 when a 24-year-old Norwegian woman died three months after being bitten by a stray puppy she tried to rescue while on vacation in the Philippines.
Defensor reminded local governments and pet owners of their obligations under the Anti-Rabies Act of 2007.
“Local governments are duty-bound under the law to conduct periodic mass vaccinations of dogs, establish databases for registered and inoculated dogs, control homeless and unvaccinated dogs and conduct public information drives to prevent and control rabies,” Defensor said.
“Pet owners are required to have their dogs regularly vaccinated against rabies, submit their dogs for mandatory registration, maintain control over their dogs at all times, report dog biting incidents inside 24 hours and assist dog bite victims,” Defensor said.