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Rabies (Documentary by Jay Taruc)

November 12, 2010 2:22pm
Episode on November 15, 2010
Monday after Saksi!

The video captured in this year 2000 episode of I-Witness is an unforgettable image that has been used in many information campaigns on rabies. A shocking documentary produced in the year 2000, “Rabies" was instrumental in raising awareness about the virus during that time. The image is that of a young man clinging to a hospital wall and breaking the window’s glass to escape.

Ten years later, the same window in this San Lazaro Hospital ward is barred. The room is quiet when Jay Taruc’s I-Witness team revisits the place. But then, a 13 year old boy suspected to be a victim of rabies is admitted. He is put under a 24 hour observation period, a standard operating procedure for San Lazaro Hospital. The parents of the boy inform the doctors that the dog, which allegedly bit the victim, is still alive. That, according to the DOH and the Bureau of Animal Industry, is not possible. It is commonly believed that a dog with rabies will die after biting a victim. But less than 24 hours after being admitted, the patient dies. This case, according to a doctor at San Lazaro, is rare and a mystery to them. Is it possible we still have something to learn about rabies after all these years?

By the year 2020, the government hopes to completely eradicate rabies. Since 2000, rabies incidence has declined because of the rigorous campaign by both the DOH and the local governments. Siquijor, for example, has been declared rabies-free. But the same cannot be said of other provinces like Pangasinan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan. They remain in the top ten provinces stricken with rabies.

San Lazaro Hospital is still the main government hospital that treats rabies patients. At the local level, health centers are provided with vaccines but no treatment is being provided for serious cases. The vaccines are only given free to those bitten by dogs and other animals. Persons exposed to the victim, for example, have to pay for their vaccinations for about P1,000 per shot. The government cannot supply free vaccines for the entire population because of the perpetual problem—lack of funds.

Republic Act 9482 or the "Anti-Rabies Act of 2007," imposes strict implementing rules and regulations with regards to rabies patients and handling of rabid animals. Guidelines about responsible pet ownership are also stated here. The I-Witness team documented Quezon City health workers as they scoured barangays for stray dogs. In less than an hour, almost 20 dogs were caught. The dogs will be held in cages. If they have not been retrieved by their owners after one week, the dogs will be put to sleep. But in some areas, other methods are being used to eradicate rabies, including gassing stray dogs.

As Jay Taruc and his team revisit the rabies story, they also come face to face with the virus itself. The team documents a laboratory examination which detects the presence of the virus in the brain of a rabid dog. What exactly does rabies look like? Find out this Monday, November 15, on I-Witness.
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