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One Health in Action: Rabies Awareness Campaign and Pet Rabies Vaccination Drive in Sarawak



The Angels Initiative and Stop Rabies Campaign is a collaborative effort undertaken by Boehringer Ingelheim Malaysia in partnership with Chevron, SEAOHUN, MyOHUN, UPM, Rhone Ma and various local stakeholders, including the Department of Veterinary Services Sarawak (DVSS). Continuous effort in fighting against rabies is needed in Sarawak, which is a rabies-endemic state in Malaysia. With four cases of human rabies reported in the Serian district of Sarawak this year, the urgency to combat rabies by the community is heightened. Usually transmitted through dog bites, rabies in humans is almost always fatal. However, it is 100% preventable with measures including vaccination and dog population control.


A total of 24 undergraduate students from the veterinary and human medicine courses participated in the two-day program on the 18th-19th of August 2023 in Kuching, Sarawak. Of the 24 students, 14 were from UPM, UMK, UKM, MSU and USIM whom were fully sponsored by Chevron, with assistance from SEAOHUN and MyOHUN. The generous support granted by Chevron also enabled three academics from UPM and one NCO MyOHUN staff to participate in the program. As part of the preparation, the students were required beforehand to undergo online training via the Global Alliance for Rabies Control platform, obtain the Rabies Educator Certification, and be fully vaccinated against rabies to ensure their competency and safety when joining the activities on-site.



The first part of the program was a rabies awareness school program which took place on 18th August 2023 at a secondary school called Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kota Samarahan, a semi-rural district reachable by a 1-hour bus ride from Kuching. More than 350 primary and secondary students from four schools in the district were involved. The aim was to empower the younger generation on the basic yet vital information about rabies, dog bite wound management and prevention. The half-day program was filled with a short cartoon presentation on rabies to gain the attention of the school children, followed by hands-on, art-based activities to allow the students to demonstrate and enforce their understanding of the knowledge gained. The program also actively involved the sponsored university students, who diligently served as facilitators in guiding the students to produce posters with various sub-topics on rabies. They also served as rabies-prevention educators and applied the knowledge gained throughout their online training on rabies to the school children. The posters produced by the students were kept by the respective schools to be displayed in the school building, ensuring sustainability and further knowledge transfer to other school children who were not able to attend the program.


A medical student from Management and Science University (MSU), Mohd Khairudin, added that he was glad that he could contribute to the good cause. “Through this program, I’ve been provided with a platform for meaningful interaction between the participants as well as communities. I really enjoyed sharing the knowledge on rabies, which can have a huge impact on the rate of morbidity and mortality of rabies cases in the area."



The second part of the program was conducted on Saturday, 19th August 2023, at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) Chung Hua, in Serian District, Sarawak. This was the district where rabies was first reported in Sarawak back in 2017. This program aimed to vaccinate as many dogs and cats as possible by offering free animal rabies vaccination to those residing in the area. Around 250 pet dogs and cats were administered anti-rabies vaccines by more than 20 veterinarians, with assistance from dedicated university students. During this vaccination drive, the university students were able to not only observe, learn and assist the veterinarians on duty, but also played an excellent role as rabies educators to the pet owners and public members who attended the event. Apart from the Stop Rabies campaign, attendees also had access to a booth dedicated to health screenings as part of the stroke awareness campaign attended by medical professionals from the Sarawak General Hospital, assisted by medical students and lecturers, who provided complimentary blood pressure and blood glucose tests and stroke and atrial fibrillation risk assessments. The university students and lecturers participating were able to communicate and work together effectively in a One Health spirit, despite just establishing their bonds and friendships in the past 24 hours.


Throughout the two-day program, it was evident that the university students were able to embody and appreciate important One Health core competencies, including multi-sectorial collaboration, communication, management and culture, beliefs and ethics.


POSTER WINNERS WITH THEIR MASTERPIECE!


“This program was an effective strategy for locals to get free rabies vaccinations for their cats and dogs, and we hope that by doing so, the public will become much more aware of the current rabies situation in Sarawak and do their part to stop the spread of rabies. It is a privilege for me to participate and experience this program as one of the volunteers,” said Fineli Anak Dominic, a student from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).


The university students were not the only ones reaping the benefits and positive impacts of this program, but also the school children and members of the public. None of this would have been made possible without the generous support from Chevron and SEAOHUN. The successful outcomes demonstrate the importance of partnership and collaboration that transverses different entities and sectors in positively impacting public health efforts. It is hoped that the Stop Rabies program 2023 will be the precedent to more collaborative efforts from both private and government sectors, locally and internationally, to further translate the One Health concept into action!



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