While more than 60,000 dogs have been steralised and vaccinated against rabies in the country to date, about 17 rabies outbreaks and 30 rabies cases in animals are reported every year, according to records with the national centre for animal health.

Although the interior part of Bhutan is free from rabies, rabies outbreaks are still common in Southern part of the country. Officials said that this was due to cross border transmission.

Deputy chief veterinary officer, Hiruka Mahat, said that although efforts are made to control stray dogs and rabies, the southern part remains an endemic area. Rabies, he said, is re-emerging in the bordering areas of east.

“There was a major rabies outbreak in Trashigang last year, which lasted almost a year and investigation showed that rabid dogs had come from the borders of Arunachal Pradesh, India,” he said.

Which is why, he said, there is a high risk of rabies spreading into the interior parts of the country.

The health ministry records show that 16 people have died of rabies between 2006 and 2016. All died without receiving post bite treatment at the hospital.

Heruka Mahat said that according to the World Health Organisation, if 70 percent of the dog population were vaccinated against rabies, there would be no chance of rabies outbreak. However, the porous border becomes a challenge in containing rabies.

Thimphu has the highest dog population, which is directly proportional to human population and increasing waste. There are about 5,000 stray dogs in Thimphu today.

As of 2015, there are about 65,000 dogs including pets in the country, of which, 48,000 are stray dogs.

“We’re aiming for zero human deaths from canine rabies by 2030 as per the international goal,” he said. “If we are able to address the stray dog issue, we would be able to address rabies too because majority of the rabies carriers are dogs.”

Heruka Mahat added that the biggest challenge to address both stray dogs and rabies is having porous borders and not having a mass dog vaccination programme in the border towns.

Bhutan observed the 11th World Rabies Day yesterday with the theme “Zero human deaths from canine rabies by 2030”. Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) and Department of Public Health, Ministry of Health (MoH) jointly organised the programme.

The day was observed in all dzongkhags with programmes focusing on educating the public, school children and communities.

A consultative meeting was also held to assess rabies prevention and control programme where they are in the process of finalising a target to achieve zero human death ahead of 2030.

Yangchen C Rinzin