KUCHING: A public health laboratory needs to be set up for Sarawak to diagnose and cope with any form of epidemic disease including rabies.
Assistant Minister of Housing and Public Health Dr Annuar Rapaee said currently, all specimens have to be sent to the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) to confirm a disease.
“Even though Unimas (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak) has the capacity, its lab is not recognised to give the confirmation and we are working with the Ministry of Health to recognise a centre which is able to diagnose and confirm diseases like rabies,” he told a press conference at the State Legislative Assembly Complex yesterday.
“As for canines, to confirm rabies, the specimens are sent to (Veterinary Research Institute) Ipoh at present, which requires a longer time. We are setting up 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 an Epidemiology Unit already exists under the Sarawak Health Department in every divisional health office, which reports back to the department’s Communicable Disease Control Section.
“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 explained.
“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 was responding to See Chee How (PKR-Batu Lintang) on the latest number of rabies epidemic areas in Sarawak and whether the Sarawak 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 – Serian, Kuching, Samarahan, Sri Aman, and Sarikei.
“As of July 4, there are 33 localities in Sarawak declared as rabies outbreak areas, based on positive canine rabies cases detected by the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS),” he said.
On human resources including specialists, consultants and trained medical officers in hospitals, clinics, and veterinary clinics throughout Sarawak to diagnose, treat, and prevent the spread of rabies and other infectious diseases, Dr Annuar said a strong pool of people from multi-disciplinary departments is 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 dogs, 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 is to vaccinate 70 per cent of the dog population.”
He pointed out that Sarawak does not have a database of its dog population as there is no proper registration system in place.
Currently there is a by-law enforced making it compulsory for all owners to register their pets or face legal action.
“All this must be together so that we are able to fight diseases. Sarawak has been declared a rabies infected area since July 1 last year.
“What’s more important in rabies is not the treatment but prevention, which is the vaccination.
“When the symptoms and signs appear after a dog bite, it is almost already fatal because there is no treatment for it,” he cautioned.
He added public awareness of what to do immediately when bitten by dogs is the most important.
“You must follow the procedures including washing with running water and immediately come to the hospitals and clinics where the patient will get vaccination injection after being assessed properly,” he stressed.
“The public should not be worried because vaccination is enough. Medical personnel are also enough to tackle the issue at the earliest stage.”
Among those present at the press conference were Sarawak Health Department director Dr Jamilah Hashim, Department of Veterinary Services Sarawak acting director Dr Adrian Susin Ambud, and Ministry of Local Government and Housing public health head Dr Cheong Yaw Liang.