Sarawak sets up ‘immune belt’ team to control rabies spread

KUCHING: Sarawak has set up an immune belt enforcement team (IBET) to control the spread of rabies in the state, particularly from areas along the border with Kalimantan.

State Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg said that the IBET was formed under the state security and enforcement unit to monitor the movement of dogs in border areas.

“The rabies situation in Sarawak is under control but we cannot take things for granted, because this disease can cost lives,” said Abang Johari.

“We also have a long border, so we will work together with the local communities to monitor and control rabies before it spreads,” he added when speaking to reporters after launching the IBET here on Monday (Sept 26).

Abang Johari said 108 IBET members had been appointed, comprising Sarawakians with previous experience in the police or Armed Forces.

He said they also came from villages in the border areas to take advantage of their local knowledge and good relations with local communities.

In his speech earlier Abang Johari said the state government was committed to eradicating rabies since an outbreak began in 2017.

He said various measures, including mass vaccination of dogs and integrated operations, had reduced the spread of the disease.

“However, integrated operations are temporary in nature and cannot be carried out continuously.

“Therefore the state government is setting up IBET as an ongoing and long-term measure towards eradicating rabies,” he said.

State security and enforcement unit director Datuk Dr Chai Khin Chung said IBET’s main duties were surveillance and targeted removal of dogs, vaccinating dogs and collecting demographic data of dogs within the immune belt area along the 1,032km-long border.

“The team members will also educate local communities to be first responders in controlling rabies,” he said.

Chai said Sarawak recorded 45 deaths from rabies since the start of the outbreak in July 2017.

He said 11 cases had been reported to date this year, up from 10 cases in the whole of last year.