KUCHING: The setting up of a public health lab is necessary in Sarawak to diagnose and cope with any form of epidemic diseases in the state, including rabies.
Assistant Minister of Housing and Public Health Dr Annuar Rapaee pointed out that at the moment, to confirm a disease, all specimens have to be sent to Institute of Medical Research (IMR) in Kuala Lumpur .
“Even though Unimas (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak) has the capacity but its lab is not recognised to give the confirmation and we are working with Ministry of Health to recognise a centre which is able to diagnose and confirm the disease like rabies,” he told a press conference at the sidelines of the State Legislative Assembly sitting here today.
“As for canine to confirm rabies, the specimens are sent to (a lab in) Ipoh at present which requires a longer time. We are setting a lab now which should be operational in one or two months time. Once ready, we will not need to send to Ipoh anymore,” he said.
Epidemiology Unit, he added, already exists under Sarawak Health Department in every Divisional Health Office which reports back to Communicable Disease Control Section of the department.
“But epidemiology is the branch of medicine which deals with the statistics, incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and has nothing to do with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases,” he elaborated.
“We have epidemiologist but it is not crucial at this time. What’s more crucial is a public health lab in order for us to cope with any form of epidemic in Sarawak,” he stressed.
Dr Annuar reemphasised this in responding to a question by See Chee How (PKR-Batu Lintang) during the question and answer session, wanting to know the latest number of rabies epidemic areas in Sarawak and whether the state government has planned with the federal government to set up epidemiology units in Sarawak hospitals to diagnose, treat and prevent the outbreak and spread of infectious diseases.
Dr Annuar added that five divisions in Sarawak have been infected with rabies namely Serian, Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman and Sarikei.
“As at July 4, there are 33 localities in Sarawak declared as rabies outbreak are, based on positive canine rabies cases detected by the Department of Veterinary Services,” he said.
On human resource availability including specialists, consultants and trained medical officers in hospitals, clinics and vet clinics throughout Sarawak to diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of rabies and other infectious diseases, Dr Annuar said strong pool of people from multi-disciplinary departments are needed to fight and eliminate rabies.
“In order to fight rabies, it is not solely dependent on medical but multi-disciplinary departments including veterinary for vaccination of dogs, medical to administer immediate treatment for patients bitten by dog, and local government to trap stray dogs,” he explained.
“On the medical side, we already have the doctors in clinics well briefed on how to manage dog bites and referral of patients. As for vaccination of the dogs, it is important for the veterinary department to have more staff to vaccinate the dogs as the ideal was to vaccinate 70 per cent of dog population in the state,” he said.
However, he said that the problem was Sarawak do not have a database record of the dog population in the country as there is no proper registration system in place.
Furthermore, he said there is no enforcement of a law to make it compulsory for all owners to register their pets or else they will be be fined.
“All these must be together so that we are able to fight diseases. Sarawak has been declared rabies infected areas since July 1 last year,” he said.
“What’s more important in rabies is not the treatment but prevention which is the vaccination. When the symptoms and signs appeared after a dog bite, it is almost already fatal because there is no treatment for it,” he cautioned.
Public awareness, he added, on what to do immediately when bitten by dogs is the most important and must be heightened.