Development & Education

Fighting rabies in Bali

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(Image by Wikimedia user Inugami-bargho (cc:by))

This article was originally covered by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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The US government has issued travel advisories for Americans visiting Bali in recent months. They aren't in response to potential terrorist threats on the Indonesian island -- the concern is an outbreak of rabies.

Bali was free of the disease for centuries, until 2008 when a case of rabies was confirmed. It's thought that an infected dog snuck over on a boat from another part of Indonesia. Since then, rabies has become a serious problem.

Rabies spread so quickly in part because of the sheer number of dogs on the island, around 600,000. That's about one dog for every seven people. These dogs are generally free roaming, which further facilitated the infection. Rabies is now blamed for killing 100 people in Bali.

In response to the outbreak, authorities killed approximately 100,000 dogs by poisoning them with strychnine. This approach, though, was ineffective: It seemed that as soon as they killed the sick dogs in one area of the island, other infected dogs simply moved into the territory cleared by the cull.

Animal rights activists urged Bali to try a different approach: the systematic vaccination of the island's dogs. Janice Giradi, American jewelry designer living in Bali, began working with local authorities to help control the problem. Before rabies hit, Giradi founded the Bali Animal Welfare Association, or BAWA, an organization that works to humanly control pet populations. After the outbreak began, Giradi persuaded Balinese leaders to let her try a pilot vaccination program in one part of the island. Last year, her group administered vaccines to about 12,000 dogs. The program has since been expanded to cover the entire island.

Though the rabies outbreak hasn't stopped, Giradi believes she's found a more humane treatment for the island's dogs.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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