OSHAKATI – Rabies in the Omusati Region is said to be on the increase with reports of one loss of life already and a huge number of livestock affected that were bitten by dogs suffering from this life-threatening disease.
While other northern regions enjoy free vaccinations against rabies, the Omusati Region is the only odd one out, with a rapid increase in cases of rabies among pets and livestock. The escalating cases are attributed to a lack of commitment among residents, especially among pet owners in that region.
Chief Animal Health Technician for the Omusati Region Abisai Taapopi said the region has a population of over 20 000 dogs. However, less than 50 percent of that canine population was vaccinated since last year.
Between August last year and July this year, four out of six postmortems carried out on dogs and cats suspected to have died of rabies, tested positive in the region. However, a disconcerting number of rabies cases went unreported, according to the animal health official. In the Oshana, Oshikoto and Ohangwena regions the disease is said to have reduced significantly and this is all credited to the commitment of farmers and pet owners.
“We are not saying farmers in our region are not aware of rabies – they are simply not serious. We always use the radio to announce vaccination schedules prior to our visits to cattle posts, but only a few farmers turn up with their cats and dogs. The elderly claim that they are unable to manhandle their animals, since their children - who are the only ones who can help them, are often at schools during vaccination campaigns,” said Taapopi.
Rabies, meaning madness in Latin, is a viral disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain in warm-blooded animals. The disease is commonly spread by a bite from an infected animal. In the north dogs and cats catch the disease easily compared to livestock. For human beings, rabies is almost inevitably fatal if a victim does not receive medical attention promptly before showing severe symptoms.
Villagers in the Anamulenge Constituency claim that a pregnant woman from Okakekete village died last week after she was bitten by a dog suffering from rabies. Two more people including a nine-year-old boy were also bitten by dogs, according to the villagers. Health officials could however not confirm the villagers’ claims.
Apart from dogs and one reported human fatality, villagers also claim that some of their livestock, especially donkeys display rabies symptoms and it is believed that a number of stray dogs in the region are responsible for the spread of the disease.
A veterinarian responsible for the the Oshana and Oshikoto regions Dr. Phillep Shilongo said unlike the Omusati Region, cases of rabies in his regions have reduced significantly.
“We carried out awareness campaigns and people are serious about vaccinations. We have people bringing their pets to our clinics and we also have teams of our officials out in the field who are vaccinating livestock as well as pets. As for Omusati, we need to increase education campaigns and create awareness among the communities,” said Shilongo.
Dr. Gordon Ssengoye, a government veterinarian in the Ohangwena Region said campaigns against rabies carried out mainly in the Ohangwena, Engela, Oshikango, Eenhana and Okongo constituencies have reduced the disease drastically.
Between the end of 2011 and March this year, an average of six to ten cases of rabies were reported on a monthly basis in the Ohangwena Region, this number has however reduced to an average of one to two cases at present.
Ssengoye attributed the drastic reduction to aggressive campaigns carried out by the regional council, traditional authorities, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture Water and Forestry officials in the Ohangwena Region.
“We also threatened to shoot stray dogs if people were not taking their pets for vaccinations, instead of tying them up in their yards. Luckily we did not shoot any dog since members of the community cooperated and brought their animals for vaccination,” said Ssengoye.
He however maintains that even if the disease has significantly reduced in the region, officials will not sit back and relax, but will continue with the campaigns against rabies.