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Yearender: Haze, rabies outbreak in Sarawak raise safety and health concerns

25 Dec 2019 / 19:30 H.

KUCHING: In 2019, Sarawak saw two catastrophic events which were health-related issues – the transboundary haze and rabies outbreak, raising health and safety concerns in the state.

In August, Miri was the first division in Sarawak to be hit by the cross border haze, believed to have originated in Kalimantan, Indonesia, where the air pollutant index (API) reading reached 400 and was categorised as hazardous.

Subsequently, the API readings in Sri Aman and Kuching shot up drastically breaching the hazardous level, due to high volume of smoke brought by winds from Kalimantan where several hotspots were detected.

The cross-border haze also affected areas in the peninsula, including the western coastal areas and the Klang Valley.

Johan Setia in Selangor was among the hardest hit where at one point the API reading reached 226.

In September the country was hit by severe haze after the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia created a thick haze increasing the API readings in all areas along the west coast and south of Peninsular Malaysia, western Sarawak and around Tawau and Sandakan, Sabah.

The National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma), which is responsible for coordinating haze mitigation measures in the affected states, proactively addressed the issues including implementing cloud seeding operations to produce rain.

Apart from that Malaysians including government leaders performed the Istisqa prayers seeking for rain to help ease the severe haze which had hit several areas in the country since August.

The haze not only disrupted the daily routine but also led to an increase in respiratory infections and resulted in losses of millions of dollars, as various sectors such as the tourism and airline industries were also affected.

Sarawak Assistant Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Datuk Sebastian Ting

Chiew Yew when launching the vehicle monitoring system (VMS) at the Sungai Tujuh Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex in October said the state tourism industry suffered during the haze as up to August, only 2.9 million tourists had visited the Land of Hornbills while the targeted number was five million.

Meanwhile, rabies became a nightmare to anyone who was bitten by house pets such as dogs and cats that have not been vaccinated, especially in Sarawak, after the rabies outbreak claimed 21 lives since it was first detected in July 2017.

As with the haze, the Ministry of Health did not rule out the possibility that cases of rabies in Sarawak were due to virus carried in by wild dogs from the Kalimantan-Sarawak border.

The deadly rabies or mad dog disease virus is transmitted through the saliva of a rabid animal through a cut or wound or when an infected dog licks a wound, grazes or broken skin.

Based on previous cases, most of the victims died as they were ignorant on the next step of action and there were cases where the victims did not lodge a report or refer the matter to a clinic or hospital after being bitten by the animal.

Pet owners were also urged to be more careful and to take responsibility in sending their pets for vaccination as one of the measures to control the spread of the virus.

Earlier Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said the Sarawak government would carry out a more aggressive anti-rabies exercise next year, to increase the vaccination rate of dogs to at least 70%.

The programme called Vaccination 2020 is a continuation of the anti-rabies operation conducted state- wide this year, which will also see to the removal and handling of stray dogs.

The Sarawak Veterinary Service had earlier reported that of every five dogs in Sarawak, two are positive with the rabies virus and as such preventive measures should always be taken. — Bernama

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