In order to spread awareness and limit the damage caused by rabies, animal rescue groups across Phnom Penh are vaccinating animals against the deadly virus for World Rabies Day.
Cambodia has one of the highest death rates caused by rabies in the world, with around 800 people reported to have died from it this year, more people than malaria and dengue combined.
The major cause of the virus spreading is dog bites, with the Cambodian definition, chkae chkuot or “mad dog” reflecting this.
It was the core reason behind the vaccination efforts of Animal Mama Veterinary Hospital and Pet Wellness Center, according to founder Yulia Khouri.
“Cambodia is number one now leading in human death from rabies which is completely needless. It’s 100% preventable but is 99.9% deadly if it’s not treated,” she said at the centre yesterday.
Until tomorrow, Animal Mama will be administering free rabies vaccinations to pets, both dogs and cats, which can also carry the virus, in order to stop the virus from spreading. The centre is also raising awareness about how people can guard themselves and their pets from the disease.
“It’s for people who would otherwise not vaccinate their animals and those who are due,
so we can talk to them about not only what rabies is but how they can protect themselves as well,”
She said each vaccination comes with a checkup of the animal to ensure they are healthy enough to have the vaccination administered, adding there was a general lack of awareness by owners that pets must receive annual vaccinations to remain immune.
“Lots of people don’t know what it is. Lots of people don’t know they have to do it annually. It’s nice to have that conversation with folks,” she said.
As of yesterday afternoon, Khouri said 60 animals had been brought in by owners and vaccinated, while the centre vaccinated 20 more neighbourhood animals over the morning.
Meanwhile, Animal Rescue Cambodia (ARC) will be holding a fundraising event at Eleven One Kitchen tonight in order to generate funds to vaccinate animals being kept in pagodas around the capital.
ARC have previously worked with pagodas, which are commonly used as dumping grounds for stray and unwanted animals, with the majority of the animals at the pagodas they work with having already been vaccinated against the virus.
ARC founder Martina Mayr said she hoped the funds raised at tonight’s vegetarian/vegan dinner would go towards vaccinations for animals at new pagodas.
She, too, noted the general lack of awareness among the population about the disease as well as the dangerous situations monks who are oblivious could be in.
“We work with the pagodas, we talk to the monks, they’re all happy for us to come over to do that,” she said.
“Most people have heard of it but I’m not sure they realise how much danger they’re in living with so many animals.”
Mayr said ARC have also dropped information leaflets in English and Khmer around the capital in order to inform the public.
Khouri said even with the combined efforts of rescue centres in the city, the overwhelming number of stray animals in the capital, let alone the provinces, meant there needed to be more government action.
“I think there’s a place for everyone here. Not one agency can [do this alone] with the limited budgets and all the animals across Cambodia. It’s impossible,” she said.
“Public health and animal health are interrelated in our view, so we work on that basis.”
According to Mayr, the government, currently working with Siem Reap Veterinary Care who are collaborating with ARC, is about to finalise the country’s first rabies eradication programme, which includes micro-chipping of vaccinated stray dogs for data collection purposes.
Animal Mama is launching its own micro-chipping programme for data collection, so that when people are bitten, the app can show which animals have been vaccinated and which ones haven’t.
“It records when and where the animals were vaccinated, so at any moment the animal bites someone, they can know what vaccination batch it was,” she said.
“People can have control of their health and their dogs as well.”
ARC’s Rabies Free Cambodia will be held tonight at Eleven One Kitchen, BKK1, from 6-10pm.
Animal Mama Veterinary and Pet Wellness Center is located at #15 St 500, Toul Tom Poung.