October 10, 2019
As nations mark World Rabies Day this week, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Department of Health (DOH) have begun coming up with a prevention and treatment network model that could help eliminate rabies in the Philippines by 2020.
The project Establishment of One Health Prevention and Treatment Model for Elimination of Rabies is being piloted in Bulacan, north of Metro Manila, which has the highest case of rabies in the country. According to the Provincial Veterinary Office of Bulacan, the province had the ninth highest record of animal bites cases among all provinces in 2018.
Under the project, JICA and DOH will come up with easy to use and cheaper diagnostic kits for rabies (like pregnancy test kits) and a data sharing system to easily identify statistics on rabies cases and needed interventions.
"Japan has been rabies-free since the 1950s made possible when we strictly implemented the anti-rabies law and held mass vaccinations of pets. Through this project, we are sharing our approach in eliminating rabies in Japan so the Philippines will effectively eradicate this disease," said Japanese expert Dr Nobuo Saito from Japan's Oita University. Oita University and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Animal Industry (DA-BAI), as well as the local health office of Bulacan Province, are partners in the project.
The project is under JICA's Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development or SATREPS where Japanese institutions and partner countries work together to solve social problems.
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease and is mainly transmitted through bites and exposure from the saliva of infected animals. In most countries, including the Philippines, more than 97% of rabies cases are from dogs. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 59,000 people die from rabies worldwide each year.
The Philippines is one of the top countries with high cases of rabies diseases, with 200 human deaths from rabies every year.
Saito said, "Filipinos are known for being dog-lovers and that's why there's strong need to emphasize responsible pet ownership and mass vaccination to control rabies."
"Rabies is preventable and it's also important to raise awareness on the different stages of rabies and its symptoms," added Dr. Timothy John Dizon of RITM. Dizon explained that some of the symptoms of rabies after incubation include fatigue, headache, anorexia, fever, and itchiness of the wound and if untreated may lead to coma or death. Little known fact is that the incubation period of rabies, or the time from infection to the manifestation of symptoms, can be as short as two (2) weeks and as long as six (6) years.
Under Philippine law or Republic Act (RA) 9482 (Anti-Rabies Act of 2007), pets should be vaccinated and pet owner is responsible for the medication of person bitten by his or her pet. However, enforcement of the law has proven to be challenging in the Philippines because of cultural factors and low awareness on the disease among the general public.
Aside from rabies eradication, JICA is also working with the Philippines in addressing various public health issues such as leptospirosis and tuberculosis (TB) among others.