29 December 2023

Federal Government helping Timor-Leste to keep rabies out

| Chris Johnson
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Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Beth Cookson

Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Beth Cookson says helping Timor-Leste stay rabies free is also helping Australia to keep the disease out. Photo: Australian Veterinary Association.

Australia is free from dog-mediated rabies and so is our near neighbour Timor-Leste – and both countries want to keep it that way.

With rabies present in other close neighbours such as Bali and (more recently) West Timor in Indonesia, the Federal Government is helping the independent East Timor (Timor-Leste) to combat the encroaching threat.

The Australian Government is giving Timor-Leste 200,000 canine rabies vaccines, as well as financial assistance, to support the Timor-Leste Government’s efforts to keep the nation free of rabies.

Timor-Leste’s Government has launched a canine rabies vaccination campaign to protect communities and their dogs from rabies.

And Canberra is helping out.

Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Beth Cookson said the Federal Government was committed to improving rabies control in neighbouring countries by supporting surveillance, vaccination and community education activities.

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“Rabies is invariably fatal to mammals, including humans,” Dr Cookson said.

“At least 59,000 people are killed from rabies globally a year, and 40 per cent of these people are children.

“To mitigate the risk to human and animal health, Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Forestry is undertaking a canine rabies vaccination campaign.

“Mass vaccination of dogs is the most cost-effective and practical way of reducing the impact of human rabies.

“Collaborating with Timor-Leste not only supports our neighbour to control dog rabies and prevent deaths in communities, but also helps keep Australia free of the disease.

“This work will help to achieve the ‘Zero by 30’ strategy, which is a collective goal of the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health to end human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.”

Australia similarly helps Papua New Guinea remain rabies-free, as well as funding regional projects in Bali and other parts of Indonesia to control the spread of the disease.

In addition to supplying vaccines, the government helps its close neighbours through assistance with rabies prevention and response strategies; strengthening diagnostic capacity and integrated surveillance; and developing national rabies management plans.

Australia’s Community Animal Health Surveillance Program also runs across the north of Australia as part of the Indigenous Ranger Biosecurity Program, which involves Indigenous rangers reporting quarterly on the health status of animals in their communities.

Reports are collated to develop baseline data for trend analysis and early warning of any changes.

Indigenous rangers receive regular training from Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy veterinarians and are encouraged to report any sick animals, including animals displaying clinical signs of rabies.

If anything unusual is reported, field vets or community liaison officers investigate further, including taking samples for laboratory diagnosis if indicated.

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The Agriculture Department has placed a greater emphasis on rabies preparedness and surveillance in recent years because the rabies virus has continued to spread through the eastern islands of Indonesia.

Its website outlines the number and types of projects it is involved with in the region and explains why controlling the spread of rabies is vital work.

“Australia is one of the few countries in the world that remains free of rabies,” it states.

“If rabies became established in Australia, the toll on human and animal health would be profound and the cost of response and elimination immense.

“At least 60,000 people die from rabies each year, with the majority of these deaths occurring in Africa and Asia. Over 99 per cent of these cases are caused by bites from infected dogs.

“Vaccination of dogs is the proven way of preventing human exposure and eliminating disease at source in rabies endemic countries.

“The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry works overseas, at the border and with communities across Australia to keep us free from rabies and other exotic diseases.”

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