Vaccination Campaign Brings Hope to Bali

This report on the recent efforts to curb the rabies outbreak in Bali comes from Michelle Morters, an IFAW consultant who has spent a great deal of time working with IFAW’s Bali-based team, Indonesia Animal Welfare (InAW). Michelle’s PhD project has brought her to Bali as she is investigating factors associated with rabies vaccine coverage in communities where rabies is endemic.

With efforts underway to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of dogs on Bali, I have been encouraged by the progress being made and have learned just how critical this work truly is to the people and dogs on the island.

Since the start of the outbreak in 2008, rabies has claimed the lives of at least 100 people and thousands of dogs. When rabies broke there was uncertainty as to how it would impact the local communities and after the devastating impacts of the 2002 and 2005 terrorist attacks, there was genuine concern that rabies would be the third Bali bomb.

I took solace in knowing that my research and the work of the IFAW’s team (locally known as Indonesia Animal Welfare - InAW) was already making a difference. Our work had allowed us to properly vaccinate two villages. Even before the launch of the recent, island-wide vaccination campaign, we were trying to help however we could. The community may not have fully understood the gravity of the situation or the importance of the simple vaccines we were giving to their dogs, but we were out there educating, vaccinating, and keeping communities safe.

However, this wasn’t always easy.  One day we went into a village to begin vaccinating and were approached by a man who was angry about the work we were doing. He thought our efforts had upset his dog who had upset his fighting cock (cock-fighting is a prolific and illegal sport on Bali) which subsequently escaped and was lost. The old man didn’t care about his dog, just his chickens!  His anger inflamed the community and we were chased out of the little sub-section of the village before we were able to explain just how important our work really was.  It was so frustrating having our efforts be so deeply misunderstood.

We needed the village heads help to go back into the area and when we did there was no further drama. In fact, we initiated very simple ad hoc education (pitched mostly at the illiterate, older villagers) which was very successful. And we also discovered that the man who had caused all the drama had, in fact, been lying about what had happened to his animals! He didn’t understand what we were doing and just took the opportunity to try and guilt us into giving him money.  And even though we were never able to “make friends” with this man, it was a small victory to get back into the village to educate the rest of the community.

Not only has the outbreak been an exercise in public education, it’s been a personal education as well. It has been very humbling to discover that prior to the launch of the vaccination campaign people were in a genuinely helpless situation. A lack of knowledge about rabies and its deadly consequences, as well as a lack of resources prevented the Balinese people from helping their dogs and themselves.  What’s more, they were unaware that their local government was not protecting them as they should. Dogs urgently needed to be vaccinated, people needed information, and there were so few resources available.

Now, with IFAW helping to fund the WSPA/BAWA led efforts to carry out an island wide vaccination campaign, there is a sense of hope. Many are thankful to those all of those who persevered in lobbying local authorities, convincing them to switch from cruel and ineffective dog culls to vaccinations.  I believe that rabies can be controlled effectively and quickly, and the tide has turned dramatically in favour of the island’s communities and their dogs.

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