Humane methods of rabies control

May 2008 marks two years since President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave a directive to the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government to stop the killing of dogs for rabies control, and instead to implement modern, humane methods of dog population control and eradication of rabies.

President Rajapaksa’s intervention in the matter of rabies control was in keeping with his pledge in the Mahinda Chinthana of his commitment to the total eradication of rabies, one of the major communicable diseases; and, against cruelty to animals. This throws light on the fact that the President’s decision to stop the killing of dogs was to direct rabies control away from an archaic system onto the path of modern, humane methods.

Since independence the rabies control authorities of this country have shown utter bankruptcy in finding effective solutions, failing to base their thinking on our own religious and cultural attitudes, as well as accepted scientific thinking. They continued the out dated colonial "seize and kill" policy abhorred by the people of this country.

The President’s call to stop the killing of dogs was heeded by the Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies throughout the country, but implementing alternate modern, humane solutions of dog population control did not happen because they did not have sufficient funds or veterinary support to carry out dog sterilization programmes. For nearly two years the two Line Ministries for rabies control, the Ministries of Health and Provincial Councils and Local Government, failed to intervene and provide funds and support the "No Killing" policy.

At last the Health Ministry has come in with an allocation of Rs. 100 million for a national sterilization programme to be implemented through provincial councils. Although this programme appears to be wrought with problems, the significant outcome is that the two Line Ministries have finally acknowledged the need to give financial and veterinary support to provincial and local authorities for dog sterilization programmes.

The President’s "No Killing" policy and call to carry out alternative modern and humane solutions has provided an invaluable opportunity for animal welfare organizations to carry out dog sterilization programmes without fear of dogs so sterilized being later caught and killed by local authorities, as happened before the "No Killing" policy came in. This showed the resistance by the authorities to modern humane methods of dog population control.

Several international veterinary groups came to Sri Lanka after the tsunami and helped avert a catastrophic spread of rabies in the tsunami affected areas. One group offered to carry out a long term dog sterilization and immunization programme and eradicate rabies in the City of Colombo, provided a "No Killing" policy was declared within the city limits, to ensure that the dogs sterilized by them would not be killed. The authorities did not agree, and this offer was not accepted. Had the President’s "No Killing" policy been in place then, this offer could have been taken up, and by now Colombo would well have been on the way to being rabies free.  

There are those who believe that dog sterilization is an ineffective method and that funds spent on it by the state, is a waste. They want a return to killing. It is clearly evident, after the mass killing of dogs for nearly a century, that killing does not reduce dog populations. The prevention of litters through sterilization is the only sustainable method of reducing dog populations.

Therefore, replacing the killing of dogs with modern methods as directed by the President is a landmark step taken in the history of rabies control in Sri Lanka, bringing revolutionary changes in the approach and methods adopted in combating rabies. The President, by his intervention in the national rabies control programme has liberated it from being trapped in outdated colonial thinking and opened it out to modern humane solutions giving hope to the country of the eradication of rabies in the near future.

To commemorate this land mark change we have appealed to the President to issue a stamp on the theme of modern, humane rabies control to mark World Rabies Day. 2008.

This will help take the message of humane rabies control to the wider public, and help project Sri Lanka’s image abroad for its humane and modern approach to combating rabies, a major communicable disease.  

Sagarica Rajakarunanayake
Sathva Mithra

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