The Philippines has missed its target to eliminate human rabies.
15 years ago, the National Rabies Prevention and Control Program (NRPCP) was created. The goal of this program was to end the occurrence of human rabies by 2020 and be in a position to declare the Philippines a rabies-free country by 2022. Despite a great deal of funding, deaths from rabies continue to occur.
Records from the Department of Health (DoH) reported 322 deaths from rabies during 2022, up from the 235 deaths in 2021.
What is rabies?
Deaths from rabies impact thousands of people every year. Once rabies symptoms appear, the disease is 100% fatal. There is no cure once the infected person becomes symptomatic.
The infected person will initially develop flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, headache, and overall weakness.
Over the period of a few days to a few months, the disease gets more and more powerful. This is when the brain begins to break down. People infected with rabies will begin to experience intense confusion and anxiety. Sometimes, people will hallucinate.
Another common effect of rabies is hydrophobia, the fear of water. The infected person becomes unable to quench their thirst.
Rabies often involves convulsions so violent that victims must be tied down by their hands and feet, and often kept tied down until they die.
Deaths from rabies are most common in Asia and Africa, where 95% of all rabies cases occur.
What causes rabies?
The leading cause of rabies in humans is dog bites. In fact, dog bites make up about 99% of global rabies infections.
LIke most countries around the world, the Philippines has a severe problem with stray dogs and cats. A 2019 estimate places the number of homeless animals at 12 million.
With so many stray dogs roaming, the likelihood of rabies infections–and deaths from rabies–is much higher.
So what did the NRPCP do?
The National Rabies Prevention and Control Program (NRPCP) was set up with the goal of declaring the Philippines a rabies-free country by 2022.
Specific efforts were put in place in an attempt to make this possible.
One of the main attempts to limit the spread of rabies was vaccination efforts. Humans are eligible to get the vaccine, but must ensure that their vaccine remains up-to-date.
And in 2018, there was a surge in counterfeit rabies vaccines administered to humans in the Philippines.
Additionally, dogs can be vaccinated to prevent the spread of rabies through dog bites. Vaccinating dogs is crucial due to the fact that dog bites are the leading cause of rabies in humans. However, dogs will continue to reproduce. And vaccines are not hereditary – the new puppies will have to be vaccinated as they are born.
Spay and neuter programs?
The most effective way to limit the spread of rabies is to reduce the number of dogs who are born in the first place.
Like many countries, the Philippines have programs in place that spay and neuter the street dogs. These programs, often called “TNR” (trap, neuter, release/return) will catch stray dogs and cats, take them to the veterinarian for spay/neuter surgery, and then release them to the spot that they were caught in. These efforts are essential to limit the reproduction of dogs and cats, who can reproduce incredibly quickly and produce litters of multiple pups.
However, TNR programs are expensive, time-consuming, and have a variety of challenges associated with them.
Catching the dogs and cats in the first place can be difficult. Then they will have to undergo an operation, which requires time to recover.
Ultimately, they are released to the spot they were taken from.
A long-term solution to deaths from rabies?
The NRPCP failed to achieve the goal of eliminating rabies in the Philippines. But what would a long-term solution look like?
As mentioned before, the stray dog and cat overpopulation crisis is out of control.
Michaela Mae Ampuan, a volunteer at the Compassion and Responsibility for Animals Welfare Philippines, explains that “the adoption rate is way below the animal-rescue rate, hence making most shelters unsustainable and overpopulated.”
TNR programs do the best they can to limit the problem right at the source and prevent reproduction. But naturally it takes time to physically catch a frightened stray dog, transport the dog to a facility, then perform a spay/neuter surgery on each dog.
While all of that is happening, many other strays are giving birth to entire litters of pups–pups who, in just six months, can give birth to their own litter of pups, and continue to repeat this Cycle of Suffering.
A long-term, permanent solution is needed to prevent the suffering of dogs and cats, and deaths from rabies.
At 600 Million Dogs, we believe that the One-Dose Spay and Neuter Cookie, once completed, has the potential to be a world-changing solution to this crisis. Our latest study is under way, featuring 30 rescued Pilot Pups–pups who have been rescued from the streets, fed a trial Cookie, and adopted into loving homes.
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