Recorded ra­bies cases ‘only the tip of the iceberg’

The Myanmar Times - - News - PHYO WAI KYAW phy­owaikyaw@mm­times.com – Trans­la­tion by Win Thaw Tar

FAR more peo­ple in Myan­mar are in­fected with ra­bies than the num­ber of­fi­cially recorded, ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal ex­perts speak­ing at an event on Oc­to­ber 3 to mark World Ra­bies Day.

Dr Myo Khine from Man­dalay Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal said that the of­fi­cial fig­ures only record peo­ple who present at hos­pi­tal with the dis­ease. He be­lieves that a lack of knowl­edge about ra­bies is why many cases go un­re­ported.

“Myan­mar is re­garded as a high­risk ra­bies coun­try. From 2003 to 2011, around 20 peo­ple were recorded as suf­fer­ing from ra­bies each year. Do not think that these are the only peo­ple who con­tracted the dis­ease. It is only the tip of the iceberg,” Dr Myo Khine said.

He said such pa­tients of­ten go to hos­pi­tal with­out any idea they had con­tracted ra­bies.

“If peo­ple do not know they could be suf­fer­ing from ra­bies, a deadly dis­ease, they might not come to the hos­pi­tal. Suf­fer­ers who die with­out com­ing to hos­pi­tal far ex­ceed the num­bers of the of­fi­cial lists,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to U Kyaw Naing Oo, di­rec­tor of the Live­stock Breed­ing and Ve­teri­nary Depart­ment un­der the Min­istry of Live­stock, Fish­eries and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, ev­ery 15 min­utes a per­son some­where in the world dies from ra­bies. Myan­mar’s low fig­ures are not due to a low preva­lence of the dis­ease but rather the low amount of re­port­ing, he added.

If left un­treated, ra­bies is al­ways fa­tal to the suf­ferer. Though vaccines and emer­gency treat­ments are avail­able, many peo­ple in Myan­mar are un­able to ac­cess the nec­es­sary med­i­ca­tion.

The dis­ease is most com­monly trans­mit­ted by the bite of an in­fected dog and trav­els at a rate of 1 to 2 cen­time­tres a day from the bite to the in­fected per­son’s brain.

“Ac­cord­ing to stud­ies we have con­ducted, stray dogs are most of­ten the car­ri­ers of the dis­ease. I do not ad­vo­cate killing sus­pect dogs but they should be tied up and con­trolled,” U Kyaw Naing Oo said.

He said there is a need to be­gin pro­grams to pre­vent stray dogs from breed­ing, though they are dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment. He called on the pub­lic to as­sist the gov­ern­ment in con­trol­ling the coun­try’s dog pop­u­la­tion and sug­gested that re­mov­ing garbage piles from the street might as­sist in de­creas­ing ca­nine pop­u­la­tions, as it has be shown to do in other coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 es­ti­mate, there are more than 3 mil­lion dogs in Myan­mar – a num­ber which is thought to be in­creas­ing by 20 per­cent each year.

U Kyaw Naing Oo cited bud­getary con­straints and con­flict­ing pub­lic opin­ion as two ma­jor im­ped­i­ments to gov­ern­ment ac­tion in re­duc­ing the num­ber of dogs in the coun­try.

“We can­not kill stray dogs. If we do, peo­ple who do not want to kill stray dogs de­nounce it, and if we do not kill stray dogs, peo­ple who want to kill stray dogs call for us to do it,” he said.

“If we in­ject con­tra­cep­tion into the fe­male dogs, one by one, to con­trol the dog pop­u­la­tion, we will never fin­ish the process,” U Kyaw Naing Oo said. “There are many [unan­swered] ques­tions: How many dogs can be in­jected within a year – 20,000 or 100,000? How many peo­ple are needed to do it? How long will it take? How much medicine will be needed?”

Photo: Phyo Wai Kyaw

An an­i­mal lover cares for street dogs in Pyin Oo Lwin.

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