In 2016, more than a million animal bite cases were recorded in the country, more than double the number from the previous year.

More than the increase from 783,663 to 1,362,998 cases, it is the fact that the number of government-run Animal Bite Treatment Centers (ABTCs) is sorely inadequate to handle victims of animal bites.

Since 2010, when only 266,220 cases were recorded, the numbers have significantly been increasing – hundreds of thousands annually – until it breached the millionth mark last year. The specialized clinics, however, have been unable to keep up.

“As the number of bites increases, [we were] unable to build more Animal Bite Treatment Centers to take care of humans bitten by dogs. Instead of having a thousand ABTCs, we barely have 600,” according to Dr Ernesto Eusebio Villalon III, program manager of the Department of Health’s Rabies Prevention and Control Program.

The health official explained they need more than 400 ABTCs to fully attend to the needs of animal bite victims. Dr Villalon was speaker at the World Rabies Day observation in the Philippines, where staff of 529 ABTCs nationwide attended.

He clarified that the public specialty clinics should not be confused with Animal Bite Centers (ABCs), which are privately-run facilities in strategic areas. ABTCs, on the other hand, are operated by local government units.

DOH provides eight full doses of vaccine, administered intradermally, through ABTCs. But these specialty clinics are only open during office hours on weekdays. It is during weekends when ABCs help fill in the gap, according to Dr. Villalon.

Dr Ernesto Eusebio Villalon III, head of the Health department's Rabies Control and Prevention Program (middle) says they need more Animal Bite Treatment Centers to handle rising number of animal bite cases.
Dr Ernesto Eusebio Villalon III, head of the Health department's Rabies Control and Prevention Program (middle) says they need more Animal Bite Treatment Centers to handle rising number of animal bite cases.

100% preventable

Rabies - a human infection that occurs after a transdermal bite or scratch by an infected animal such as dogs and cats - while fatal, is 100 percent preventable.

Most infections in the Philippines are caused by bites of infected dogs – around 80 percent – although it may also be caused by infected cats and other animals. Contracting rabies is certain to be fatal thus the need for immediate medical attention.

“It is not among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the country but it is regarded as a significant public health problem because it is one of the most acutely fatal infections and responsible for the death of 200-300 Filipinos annually,” according to the DOH.

Since 2007, fatalities from rabies ranged from 200 to 285, the lowest of which was 205 deaths, recorded in 2013.

“It is very alarming that the DOH is continuing to record fatalities from a disease that is 100 percent preventable. Rabies can be prevented. Dog vaccination and responsible pet ownership can help us achieve our collective goal of rabies [prevention] by 2020,” said Dr Mario Baquilod, head of Disease Prevention and Control Bureau.

Rabies infection peaks during summertime, when children are mostly at home and play outside.

DOH said it is providing post-exposure prophylaxis for bitten victims in all DOH-recognized ABTCs, through state health insurer Philhealth, which has an animal bite treatment package for qualified members.

In terms of education, the department has lined up campaigns on how to manage pets while encouraging responsible pet ownership, including vaccination. They also warned the public of stray rabid animals.

Not all dogs are infected

Using a ratio of one dog to 10 people, there are around nine million dogs in the Philippines.

Anti-rabies vaccination rate for dogs is currently at 47.43 percent, or about 4 million as of 2016.

Dr Simeon Amurao of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), DA, clarified that not all animals which bite people are infected with rabies. Neither is the disease inherent to these animals, according to Dr Emelinda Lopez, also from BAI.

The Negros Island Regions posted 78 percent vaccination, Region VII had 73.88 percent, and Region V had 63.91 percent as of 2016, according to the animal rabies report.

In contrast, Region III, the National Capital Region, Region IV-A, Region I, and Region VII reported high rates of animal rabies.

Rabies: Zero 2020

Meanwhile, the DOH, was joined by the Departments of Education, Interior and Local Government, Agriculture, the World Health Organization and other concerned agencies in celebrating the 2017 National Rabies Summit on September 28 at the Century City Park Hotel, Manila.

Attendees were composed of representatives from local government units and partners, such as the Global Alliance for Rabies Control as represented by Dr Danielle Joy O. Medina. Some LGUs were awarded for their work on rabies prevention, while some renewed their commitment.

Provinces with the highest human rabies cases in 2015 include Pangasinan, Bulacan, Camarines Sur, Bukidnon, Leyte, South Cotabato, and Nueva Ecija.

The abovementioned government agencies make up the National Rabies Control Committee (NRCC), which set the vision for the country of “Rabies: Zero 2020.”

NRCC is also implementing the National Rabies Prevention and Control Program (NRPCP), which includes programmes on managing rabies exposure, building of Animal Bite Treatment Centers (ABTC) and creation of rabies-free zones in the country.

Responsible pet ownership

Responsible pet ownership is when pet owners submit their pets for health check ups and vaccination.

The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), an NGO dedicated to helping animals, meanwhile, said that owning a pet must be considered a life commitment, with owners providing adequate sustenance, proper shelter, and medical care which include vaccinations throughout the remainder of the pets’ lives.

“Through stewardship and accountability for our domesticated animals, we are preventing the spread of a 100 percent fatal disease through 100 percent caution,” urged Secretary of Health Paulyn Ubial, in a message.

“As long as we remain united and resolute, we will surely attain our vision of a rabies-free Philippines by the year 2020,” affirmed Agriculture chief Emmanuel Pinol. MIMS

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