Wednesday, 22 September 2004  
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Rabies eating into Health budget - Health Minister

by Chamikara Weerasinghe

Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva yesterday vowed to step up action to rid the country of the stray dog menace in the fight against rabies. The Minister will be assisted in this endeavour by Colombo's Deputy Azath Sally in the Colombo City which abounds with a large stray dog population.

Minister De Silva said it was important to bring down the number of stray dogs as the number of stray dog victims was on the rise so much so that this has caused a severe dent in the health budget.

"An estimated 2,000 dogbites take place daily in the country," the minister pointed out. "This compels the government to spend Rs. 1,500 on each victim, which would mean a cost of Rs. 300 million in the end for the Health Ministry on both human and animal anti rabies vaccines."

"This is also a severe strain on the Health Budget leaving out programmes for rabies control" he said.

The Minister was addressing local authorities, representatives from animal associations and officials of the Public Veterinary Services and relevant bodies.

The Minister said this was because of the unprecedented number of stray dogs in the country which is estimated at 2.5 million at present despite a number of sterilization programs introduced by the Ministry and other organisations.

He asked the authorities to step up action to bring down this number in a country-wide program to 1 million in the following year. He also said that he planned to introduce amendments to the Rabies Ordinance so that people would feel their social responsibility to others and their pets. Steps would also been taken to increase the license fee of dogs and other pets, according to him.

Reacting to protests by Animal Rights activists who argue that elimination of stray dogs would not be the answer to the control of rabies, Deputy Mayor Azath Sally said on this occasion he was more concerned about protecting human lives than dogs. Admitting that the stray dog population had increased in the Colombo Municipal area, Sally said he had taken steps to eliminate dogs as the Acting Mayor.

Giving reasons for the increased number of stray dogs in Colombo, he said for the last two and half years, Mayor Prasanna Gunawardena had not killed a single dog.

"I'm intent on reducing number of human deaths as against the lives of stray dogs , " he said and added that he was sad that there had been 50 confirmed rabies cases reported so far to the CMC.


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