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Ministry attempts to calm stampede for rabies vaccinations

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Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng talks to his officials last week. Heng Chivoan

Ministry attempts to calm stampede for rabies vaccinations

The Ministry of Health has urged that priority be given to those scheduled for rabies treatment as people flocking to the capital’s Pasteur Institute in Cambodia for vaccinations is putting a strain on the system.

The call came after the institute reported that increased numbers of people with no symptoms of the disease showing up is causing increased waiting times.

A 10-year-old girl died in Svay Rieng province on February 12 after contracting rabies from a cat bite early in December.

The girl’s family, from Khlaing village in Svay Teap district’s Chrak M’tes commune, did not admit her to hospital until her symptoms worsened, by which time it was too late.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine could not be reached for comment. But she said in a ministry statement that preventive measures were best to avoid contracting the disease. Avoid playing with or being bitten by cats or dogs, do not allow your own dog or cat to roam freely where it could bite other people – and vaccinate your pets.

“[We] would like to renew [our] instructions that those at highest risk – such as people who have been bitten by dogs or cats – pregnant women and those who have been scheduled to be vaccinated will receive their vaccination as a priority.

“Those who have not been bitten, and those who were bitten several days ago but have not developed any symptoms, should wait for a while in order to avoid a logjam at Pasteur,” the ministry statement said.

Ly Sowath, a doctor at the institute’s Epidemiology and Public Health Unit, told The Post on Sunday that people were flocking to get vaccinated against rabies. However, some had been bitten or scratched by a cat or dog a long time before and knew it was still alive more than 10 days later, meaning the animal was rabies-free.

“In such cases, this means the animal causing the injury did not have rabies and cannot transmit the disease . . . [These people] do not need to be vaccinated. Animals with rabies [don’t live long].”

Following the steep rise in people seeking vaccinations, the Pasteur Institute issued a press release requesting citizens give priority to those who were coming to be vaccinated for the second or third time as scheduled and to those who had suffered serious dog bites, young children, monks, disabled people, elderly people and pregnant women.

It also called on people not to believe everything they read on social media, saying rabies vaccinations are not necessary for everyone.

A Pasteur Institute study found that around 800 people die from rabies each year in Cambodia, of which 40 per cent were under 15 years old.

It said that although 600,000 people are bitten by dogs each year, the institute provided vaccinations for only 22,000 people.

Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng said the ministry took the issue seriously and had opened another rabies vaccination centre in Battambang province in cooperation with the Pasteur Institute.

He said there were also private services with proper licences in cities and provinces, so there was a choice of where to receive rabies vaccination.

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