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Responsible pet ownership needed to reduce rabies 
– Health Minister

Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, said there was a dire need for responsible pet ownership among Sri Lankans. The country needs laws to protect animals, especially pets and other domestic animals, even from their owners.

Addressing a seminar held yesterday (23), at the National Blood Bank in view of ‘World Rabies Day,’ on Monday (28), he said people reared dogs and cats without thinking of how they planned on caring for them. When the dog grows old or happens to fall ill, they merely go and dump it near a temple, a hospital or leave it on the road side. "Responsible pet ownership is one method by which we could reduce the number of dog bites and rabies."

This year’s theme for World Rabies Day (WRD), is ‘Work together for rabies elimination by the year 2016.’ de Silva said the government spends Rs. 35,000 to treat a dog bite victim. Nearly half of the Health Ministry budget (Rs. 1.5 billion) goes into treating dog bite victims annually. The situation is not economically viable as the funds could go into hospital development.

"Despite the archaic attitude of some of the top officials in the Ministry who believe the best way to control stray dogs is to gas them, the rest of us feel that there is a more humane way to handle the problem," he said. However, due to the number of studies and conferences these officials have attended in foreign countries, they have been successful in coming up with a more humane method of dealing with the stray dog menace in Sri Lanka. "The trips abroad have paid off as we have been able to devise scientific ways of controlling the dog population by sterilising and vaccinating them," he said.

But we don’t have enough dog catchers and an adequate number of veterinary surgeons to carry out the programme.

Deputy Director General (Public Health), Dr. Palitha Mahipala, said the Treasury had allocated Rs. 200 million for rabies control this year.

The Director, Public Health Veterinary Services, Dr. D.P.L. Harishchandra, said the Ministry had been able to reduce the number of deaths due to rabies from 73 in 2006 to 51 last year. This year to date we have had 31 rabies deaths in Sri Lanka.

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